AMHERST, Mass (WGGB) — Racial tension was the topic of an emotional school committee meeting Tuesday night in Amherst.
It was standing room only, as dozens crowded in to support math teacher Carolyn Gardner, who has been the target of three racial slurs this school year.
“Clearly if there are those who see me as less than human than I am at risk for more attacks and who knows how that can end,” an emotional Gardner told the school committee.
The third written racial attack against her was discovered at Amherst Regional High School last week in a school bathroom, including the use of the “n” word.
“Racism thrives in silence and it is thriving here,” Gardner said.
Gardner accused school administrators of not properly handling other attacks earlier this year.
“The sluggish response of the school administrators leading up to this most recent attack is a sad indication to me that the need for racial consciousness and sensitivity is low on this administration’s list of priorities,” Gardner said.
“That’s all I need to know,” Principal Mark Jackson said. “So what I understood to be adequate, proportional, clearly she had a different interpretation of that. So my job is to pay attention to that.”
School officials pledge when Gardner is ready to return to school, she will have every resource to feel safe. Meantime, Gardner, and dozens of others say her chilling experience needs to be a launching pad to end systemic racism and integrate everyone in their community.
“This is when it’s time of us to stand up and we can not just let this pass by and let this experience be our leading moment,” ARHS sophomore Josiah Vasquez said.
“Change is hard and rarely does it come without a fair amount of angst and a fair amount of effort and some real challenge from I think the administators and the school committee, as well as the staff and students in our community,” Superintendent Maria Geryk said. “This is not easy work, but it’s the most critical work.”
The investigation into the actual attacks is still ongoing. Jackson says that the school is working with the Amherst Police Department to identify who is responsible for the hate crimes. He adds that while they are following some leads, they will leave no stone unturned so that accountability will compliment the progressive conversations the Amherst community is now engaging in.
Geryk adds that she plans to use the community members who have offered support so far to immediately review and focus on diversity sensitivity.