‘Racially insensitive’ yearbook photo sparks outrage among MIHS parents

Black Student Union president angered that a “white group of people can justify for a black community…and has been question[ed] on what is and is not racist.”

Many residents are urging the school district to foster cultural competency in students after an alleged racially insensitive photograph was published in the 2017-18 Mercer Island High School yearbook.

The photo shows two students voted as “most intimidating,” each holding one young African American man in a headlock position. One of the young men is an MIHS security officer.

MIHS principal, Vicki Puckett, apologized on behalf of the school in a letter sent to students, parents, faculty and the community.

“This image should not have been included in the yearbook and in no way reflects our values at MIHS,” Puckett wrote.

According to the district’s Fundamental 7, it calls for the district to foster and embrace diversity, inclusiveness, and equity with a focus on respect and acceptance of every student. Puckett said the school fell short of meeting this criteria.

“As a place of learning, we can and will do better in the future,” she wrote.

A member on the Mercer Island School District Superintendent’s Diversity Advisory Committee, Robin Li, thinks the image is unacceptable. In a Facebook post to the ONE MI (Organizing Group Network for Equity on Mercer Island) group, she said the yearbooks should have been recalled, the page removed, or a sticker issued to cover the image. She is also disappointed in Puckett’s response to the photo.

Li presented a letter to the school board last Thursday. The letter has 124 community signatures.

“This yearbook photo is a shocking wake-up call to our community. The image evokes historical memories of slavery, the subjugation of civil rights activists, and continuing injustices of police brutality. It is painful for many of us to look at,” Li wrote.

The letter outlines four actions the signatories believe the district should take to “foster cultural competency in students.”

The actions include implementing measurement tools to gauge Fundamental 7 progress, creating a Teacher on Special Assignment position focused on diversity and equity, ongoing professional development of outside consultants for staff and having the MISD staff demographics reflect King County demographics by 2025.

“We urge the district to act now to adopt concrete measures to address the educational context that failed to give students the historical and cultural knowledge that would have prevented this incident,” Li wrote.

MIHS administrators met with the yearbook class during finals week to speak with students about cultural sensitivity.

Channing Martin, a junior yearbook editor and president of the Black Student Union, said she was “extremely angry” when she heard about the issue given “the lack of diversity in the community.”

“In my opinion, Mercer Island has no voice in talking about the diversity of this photo,” she said. Martin wrote a letter to the administration and superintendent expressing her frustration of the community’s reaction to the photo.

“As being a president of the Black Student Union, I am disappointed in Mercer Island High School. Since when was it okay to have a group of predominantly white parents voice for a group of black individuals?” she wrote. “I am angered at the fact that a white group of people can justify for a black community that has been oppressed for decades and has been question[ed] on what is and is not racist…So, if it was a black student holding a white student, would you consider it racist? If it didn’t offend me, why is it offending you?”

MIHS has ordered approximately 1,200 stickers to be mailed to students and families to cover the photo.

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