‘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.

More in News

Malena Gaces, left, and other members of Washington CAN protest unfair move-out charges and alleged discriminatory behavior outside Kitts Corner Apartments in Federal Way in 2018. Sound Publishing file photo
King County could increase tenant protections

The council is considering ordinances designed to help renters.

The 2015 Wolverine Fire in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest near Lake Chelan. Photo courtesy of the Washington Department of Natural Resources.
The smoky summer that wasn’t

While Washington had a mild season, wildfires burned near the Arctic.

Photo courtesy of Amanda Colburn
                                The Island’s third Pumpkin Walk is set for Oct. 27 at Luther Burbank Park.
Mercer Island Pumpkin Walk returns

After a hiatus in 2018, the pumpkin walk is back.

Former Mercer Island City Council candidate Joy Langley posted a photo of her various credentials — including her Cornell degree — on her website during her campaign after a group of residents questioned her education credentials. File photo
Prosecutors will not charge former candidate who allegedly lied to voters

Vetting of candidate information is left up to citizens.

Natalie DeFord/staff photo
                                From left, Ashley Hay and Olivia Lippens with baby Monroe in protesting the bus intercept plan in front of the future Mercer Island light rail station.
Moms, business owners, residents oppose bus intercept

Daily rider estimates debated and not yet certain.

Dane Scarimbolo and Dominique Torgerson run Four Horsemen Brewery in Kent. They were almost shut down in late 2017 by King County, which after years of letting them operate a brewery and taproom, decided they were in violation of county code. Aaron Kunkler/staff photo
Proposed winery ordinance irks King County farmers, neighbors and businesses

Concerns include more traffic, higher land prices, code enforcement and compliance.

Balducci runs against Hirt for District 6 county council seat

The former Bellevue mayor is essentially running unopposed.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee after speaking with reporters Aug. 22 in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
Lawmakers to governor: How dare you mess with our budget!

They want Jay Inslee to halt his planned $175 million reallocation of state transportation dollars.

“We are one,” King County Sheriff Mitzi G. Johanknecht said in regard to the recent teen deaths due to fentanyl overdose. Left: Sammamish mayor Christie Malchow, King County Sheriff Mitzi G. Johanknecht and Sammamish Police Chief Michelle Bennett. Madison Miller / staff photo
Two Skyline High School students die from fentanyl overdose

The Sammamish police department, city of Sammamish, school districts join forces to prevent future teen fentanyl deaths.

Most Read