Marist High School in Mount Greenwood is investigating allegations that students engaged in a racist protest during the school’s homecoming dance Saturday.
Elizabeth Pacheco and Maia Trevino, both 16-year-old juniors, told the Sun-Times Monday that some of their classmates knelt down and made derisive comments about Mexicans when a disc jockey played a Spanish-language song.
“If you love our food, ethnic fashion, and energy so much… why do you resent us,” Pacheco asked in the caption of an Instagram video showing the incident that had garnered nearly 150,000 views as of Monday night. “How would you like it if we kneeled to your country music?”
Earlier Saturday, Marist defeated Montini Catholic High School, 34-0, in its homecoming football game. Later that night, hundreds of students attended the dance, which was held on a field outside the school at 4200 W. 115th St.
About an hour into the dance, the DJ spun a Spanish-language version of Billy Ray Cyrus’ hit “Achy Breaky Heart.” Pacheco and Trevino, who hadn’t been dancing, took to the floor.
But a few dozen of their classmates then knelt together in the center of the dance floor, apparently in protest, according to the girls and the video Pacheco posted to Instagram. Pacheco said some students booed and jeered, while others purposely disrupted a line dance. Both girls said they heard one classmate make an apparently racist comment.
“‘Ugh, it’s Mexicans,’” the girls, who are both of Mexican descent, recalled the student saying.
“I’m trying to understand their point of view,” Pacheco said of her classmates. “But when it’s something that’s so wrong that just targets you and your community, it’s really upsetting. I kind of can’t see them the same anymore.”
While Trevino said her family members had warned her about the discrimination they’d faced in the past, that awareness didn’t prepare her for Saturday’s jarring incident.
“I never thought that that would ever happen to me, especially in a school where I felt safe and appreciated and with friends — who I considered friends,” she said. “Seeing them kneel and disrespect what I am … and the culture I represent … it doesn’t feel good.”
Administrators at the Roman Catholic school didn’t respond to interview requests. But Marist spokeswoman Kristine Kavanagh issued a statement saying school leaders “are disheartened by the recent events that took place at our Homecoming celebration this past weekend.
“Our Administrative team, Campus Ministry members, faculty, and staff will use this moment in time to educate all members of our student body, so they have a clear understanding of how their actions, even unintended ones, can be perceived as hurtful to others,” the statement said. “We respect and foster diversity, equity, and inclusion for all and want every student to succeed by feeling valued, seen, and connected.
“We, as a school, promote cultural diversity and are providing professional development on cultural competency for staff and students. Marist High School is fully investigating the events and will address them as appropriate.”
On Monday, some sophomores took a knee during homeroom “to show how we are against racism and add [to] address the problem that happened,” according to social media posts.
Principal Meg Dunneback also met with Latino students, including Pacheco and Trevino. The two said the incident offers a crucial learning experience for their peers.
“You can say I’m sorry [and] be punished, but then you go home and do the exact same thing,” Pacheco said. “They need to understand and be educated that this was wrong. I want them to open their hearts to us and our culture.”
Pacheco said Saturday’s incident isn’t the first time minority students “have felt less than themselves.”
Trevino noted that a similar incident played out Sept. 15, when the predominantly Hispanic kitchen staff started playing Spanish-language music to mark the beginning of National Hispanic Heritage Month. She said some white students booed, and one mockingly used what she described as a stereotypical Mexican accent.
Though Pacheco and Trevino weren’t yet students at Marist, they also recalled an incident in which two white students were expelled in 2016 over racist text messages that were shared on social media. The girls’ fathers later sued the school in Cook County court seeking $1 million, though no filings have been made in the case since December 2017.
That January, their attorney told the Chicago Tribune that the girls had reached an agreement with administrators allowing them to receive their diplomas. At that point, other students who were embroiled in the controversy were welcomed back to the school.
Pacheco and Trevino credited school leaders for swiftly responding to their concerns Monday while insisting they aren’t trying to “bash Marist.” Pacheco, however, said she fears administrators could try to sweep the issue under the rug to protect the school’s reputation.
“My main intention is to educate students on racism and discrimination. I think this was really disrespectful to our community,” Pacheco said.
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October 11, 2021 at 11:03PM