School-wide assembly spurs conversations about hate speech

In-class presentation on Jan. 6 prompted students to discuss how to prevent racism online and in the classroom


Arden Rathkopf

During the school-wide assembly on hate speech, English teacher April McKenna leads a discussion on hate speech. Students are invited to share their thoughts.

Hazel Engstrom and Marley Helfer, Staff Reporters

Students and teachers participated in a school-wide in-class assembly on Jan. 6 addressing racism and hate speech within the community. 

The assembly featured statements from the BHS administration and the Racial Equity Team (RET), as well as guided class discussions about hate speech.

“Racism and hate speech have no place at Ballard High School,” BHS admin and RET wrote in a statement in the presentation. 

Students were prompted to discuss what hate speech is, how to create a culture of belonging, and how to combat racism and hate speech. 

“[We need to] call it out in the moment and [become educated] to prevent it in the future,” a student said. 

Many students shared common perspectives about how to combat racism. 

“When someone’s saying something derogatory… you have to acknowledge it,” another student said.

This assembly was intended to address an incident of racism that took place in November. 

The hate speech took place over social media which also played a large role in what was discussed throughout the assembly. Students were asked to avoid interacting with posts that contain racist content or language, in addition to unfollowing people who share and spread these posts.

While the BHS administration immediately intervened privately in this instance, BHS’s student union leaders felt that a more public action was necessary. 

“We were just very concerned that there had been no public addressing of it to the school,” Anya Souza-Ponce, LatinX Student Union President, said.

 The Asian Student Union, Black Student Union, Multicultural club, Indigenous Student Union, Jewish Student Union and LatinX Student Union came together and met with administration and the RET in December to address the incident. 

“…The focus of that meeting was largely about calling attention to the school’s inadequate response to ongoing issues of racism and hate speech at Ballard High School,” Principal Abby Hunt said.

The union leaders detailed their concerns and ideas with the admin. 

“We made a plan for making a statement and [to] have more actionable items, seen in the assembly that just happened [Jan. 6],” Souza-Ponce said. 

Following the meeting, Hunt worked with other admin and the RET to put the assembly together, “looking at ways for our whole community, those people who are bystanders to things” to address issues of racism and hate speech.

“It’s clear, and I heard from the students, that it’s not enough,” Hunt said. “We need to do more.”

Moving forward, the student union leaders hope to see a shift in the culture at BHS. 

“If you don’t want this to be business as always, then you shouldn’t be treating it as business as always,” Souza-Ponce said. 

Several of the student union leaders feel that addressing racism within the school comes back to communication and transparency between administration, students, and staff. 

“I think we should make sure that our teachers are properly supported to be able to have these conversations also,” Souza-Ponce said. “We want to make sure that everyone will be able to have the support and resources to [make a difference].”

Not only does work apply to teachers, the union leaders pointed out, but to everyone. 

“Racial justice doesn’t just apply to black people… it applies to everyone,” Semai Hagos, BSU co-President and Talisman Features Editor, said. “We all have to do our part to make the school a safe space.”