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Students of Color Matter

On the morning of March 11, 2019, the administration of the Ethical Culture Fieldston School arrived to work, dumbfounded. One of the classroom buildings was locked, and a group of students stood barricaded inside, in protest to the lack of efforts to protect students of color. The prestigious school located in the Bronx had been occupied by students for two weeks after a video circulated the campus of students using racist, homophobic and misogynistic language. After bringing many instances of racism to the attention of the administration, the students of Fieldston had enough. It was time to take a stand.

In a bold move to demand change, the students created multiple social media profiles, all branded with the hashtag #StudentsOfColorMatter. Actively tweeting during the peaceful protest as well as posting professionally branded content on Instagram, grabbed the public’s attention. Their mission was to, “command the implementation of structural reform, such as long-term curriculum changes, the admittance of more students AND faculty of color, and racial sensitivity training for all community members.”

With a powerful demand, their first Instagram post asked, “Will you join us or sit back and watch?” The courageous students made it clear this wasn’t only about the students currently attending. This was about the bigger picture of future students who’d experience systemic and institutional racism, just as they had. They weren’t after a quick fix, they wanted long-lasting change.

After their principal Jessica Bagby continued to fail her students by not listening to their demands on day one, which was the whole reason the sit-in began in the first place, more than 50 students pledged to spend the night at the school. At the end of their first day, they chronicled the events that happened in their efforts to make their voices heard.

Their full list of demands can be read here: PDF

By day two, there were more than 200 students occupying Fieldston during negotiations with the administration. At this point, major news outlets like NBC, ABC, The New York Post, The Daily News, NPR and Vice had gotten wind of the student's stand and started covering the story accordingly.

This isn’t the first time there has been a major sit-in at Fieldston regarding racism. Back in 1970, more than 60 students barricaded themselves inside the three-story administration building, demanding that they enroll more minority students. Ripping a page out of their grandparent’s book, they made sure to state their peace, stay focused and remained unwavered throughout the process.

Not only did the students gather on day two to continue to make their demands, but they all met up, had lunch, discussed future plans as well as took this time to continue to promote unity. They watched “Fruitvale Station,” further educating students of color as well as white allies who were there with them on the realities of being Black in America. While the movie was for older audiences, they made sure the middle schoolers who were sitting in with them had a more censored educational program, which ended up being, “Eye on the Prize.”

After nearly 72-hours of extensive back and forth with Fieldston’s administration, the lockout was over! All 20 demands that the students made were met, and Jessica Bagby sent out an apology for turning a blind eye on these issues prior to the protest.

Writing this gave me chills and at times, my eyes watered. Often, the youth are ignored. I’m proud to say millennials and post-millennials have been more outspoken than ever. We’re organized, straight forward and disciplined. It’s an honor to be able to take a stand and set a positive example for the many generations to come. It’s times like these that make you realize just how powerful we are in numbers. I have faith in the post-millennial generation and every generation after them. These kids are our future and they’re already doing a damn good job. I look forward to watch them bloom where they are planted.


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