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Travel Guides – Racism lurks behind decisions to deny Black high school students from being recognized as the top in their class


Was ‘white fragility’ the motive behind two Black Mississippi high schoolers’ dropping their valedictorian/salutatorian standing? Sue Barr/Getty Images

Two Black students – Ikeria Washington and Layla Temple – had been named valedictorian and salutatorian at West Point High School in Mississippi in 2021. Shortly afterward, two white parents questioned whether or not school officers had appropriately calculated the top educational honors.


Ultimately, the school superintendent named two white students as “co-valedictorian” and “co-salutatorian” on the day of graduation.


High school seniors with the highest GPA in their graduating class are chosen to be valedictorians and are sometimes chargeable for delivering the graduating speech. Salutatorians, who’re high school seniors with the second-highest GPA in their graduating class, typically give the opening remarks.

The superintendent attributed the mix-up to a brand new school counselor who was given incorrect info on how to calculate class rankings.

As an educational researcher who focuses on race and inequality, I’m conscious that the controversy at West Point High School is not at all remoted.

A historical past of overlooking Black valedictorians

Back in 1991 a federal decide in Covington, Georgia, resolved a dispute a Black high school senior had with a white pupil over who will get to be valedictorian by making them share the honor.

Then in 2012 in Gainesville, Georgia, one other Black valedictorian was additionally compelled to share the honor with a white pupil. Later, the white pupil’s household requested the school to drop his candidacy from the educational honor.

In 2011, Kymberly Wimberly, a Black pupil in Little Rock, Arkansas, had her valedictorian honor stripped away by her principal to be given to a white pupil with a decrease GPA. Wimberly’s lowest grade throughout all 4 years of high school was a B. In the remainder of Wimberly’s programs, honors and Advanced Placement programs, she obtained A’s.

In her lawsuit, Wimberly claimed {that a} day after being knowledgeable that she was the valedictorian for McGehee High School, the principal instructed her mom, Molly Bratton, that he “decided to name a white student as co-valedictorian.”

Story continues

I grew to become acquainted with these sorts of valedictorian disputes once I examined the 2017 lawsuit of Jasmine Shepard. A pupil at Cleveland High School in Mississippi, Shepard had the highest grade-level common in her class.

However, the day earlier than commencement, she was compelled to be co-valedictorian with Heather Bouse, a white pupil with a decrease GPA.

How ‘white fragility’ performs out

In my peer-reviewed article analyzing Shepard’s case, I examined it from the standpoint of critical race theory. Critical race idea is a theoretical framework that examines racism as a social assemble ingrained in the American authorized and political system.

In my evaluation, I conclude that the decisions to drive Black students to share top honors with white students outcome from a psychological discomfort recognized as “white fragility.” This is a state of stress skilled by some white individuals when they’re offered with details about individuals of coloration that challenges their sense of entitlement.

I maintain that when students of coloration are named top students in their graduating class, as Shepard was in 2016, white society could start to concern that students of coloration are encroaching upon their social turf, so to communicate.

A authorized perspective

I imagine the disputes that come up when Black students are named valedictorian must be considered in the context of white fragility.

For instance, think about what occurred when a federal decide ordered the Cleveland, Mississippi, school district to desegregate in 2017 after having failed to accomplish that in 1969 after the Brown v. Board of Education case.

After the 2017 order, The New York Times reported that many whites in Cleveland “feared” that “dismantling the system would prompt whites to do what they have done in so many other Delta cities: decamp en masse for private schools, or move away.” This is thought as “white flight.”

In the instance of Jasmine Shepard, too, I contend that white fragility and the concern of white flight had been at play.

A key issue contributing to Heather Bouse’s being named co-valedictorian with Shepard was that Bouse had obtained credit score for an unapproved Advanced Placement course in on-line physics, in accordance to courtroom transcripts that I examined.

The school coverage requires that it publicize all of the programs out there to students in the district. Unfortunately, the school directors failed to inform students, dad and mom and school counselors that the on-line physics course was out there.

According to Judge Debra M. Brown, the superintendent and the district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum evaluation and instruction “incorrectly believed” that the school district was approved to supply on-line programs for credit score that may depend towards students’ commencement necessities. Bouse’s on-line physics course was “designated as advanced, which resulted in six rank points.”

Based on the credit score awarded for this unapproved on-line physics course, Bouse’s total GPA was inflated, whereas Shepard’s GPA was wrongly calculated. This was as a result of her steerage counselor had re-enrolled her in a desktop publishing course in which she had already obtained an A.

As a matter of coverage it was “contrary to the School District’s practices for student to receive credit for a course she had already completed and earned an ‘A,’” in accordance to the criticism. This re-enrolling led to Shepard’s total GPA being lowered, which is mentioned in her criticism.

A unique pupil filed a really related lawsuit to Shepard’s in 2018. In that lawsuit, Olecia James argued that Cleveland School District officers had been “reducing the quality points she earned from courses she had taken.” Quality factors are one other metric of a pupil’s grades.

Ultimately this prevented her from turning into Cleveland High School’s first Black salutatorian.

The stakes related to being valedictorian and salutatorian are already high. Competition for college admission increases every year.

Unfortunately, as in the incident involving Ikeria Washington and Layla Temple at West Point High School reveals, when the honorees are African American, there have been cases in which individuals have questioned the validity of the final result.

My analysis means that at any time when a Black pupil’s standing as valedictorian or salutatorian is questioned, it pays to ask questions. Is it being questioned for a official motive? Or would possibly racism or white fragility be at play?

[Over 106,000 readers rely on The Conversation’s newsletter to understand the world. Sign up today.]

This article has been up to date to right the location of the 2012 authorized case from Gainesville, Florida to Gainesville, Georgia.

This article is republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit information website devoted to sharing concepts from educational consultants.

Read extra:

Jamel Ok. Donnor is affiliated with the James City-Williamsburg NAACP.


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