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Education

Delaware students call out schools on racism, bias through anonymous Instagram accounts

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Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media
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The @speakup_delaware Instagram account posts anonymous stories from University of Delaware students

Delaware students have joined a nationwide trend of anonymously sharing their experiences of racism and bias at school on social media. 

The "speak up" Instagram accounts for Wilmington-area private schools, New Castle County VoTech School District and the University of Delaware mimic ones for schools and universities across the country. They’ve posted hundreds of anonymous stories by students and alumni about bias, racism, homophobia or sexual harassment they’ve experienced at the schools.

The account dedicated to the Wilmington-area private schools, @wilmpsspeaks, had over 6,200 followers Wednesday.

“I am a legal immigrant,” wrote one contributor who identified themself as a Sanford student. “But [one student] used to ‘joke’ that I was an illegal Mexican immigrant coming to ‘destroy’ America or a Syrian refugee. People used to ask me everyday how I coulds speak English so well.”

“I was the only Black kid in my grade at the time,” wrote another Sanford contributor. “I would constantly be told my lips were too big, and my classmates would stick out their lips so they could look like mine.”

The account dedicated to the New Castle County VoTech School District, @nccvtspeaks, has shared resources about Black history not commonly taught in schools, common microaggressions in predominantly white schools and how to be a white ally.

“In sophomore year I came out as LGBTQ+, and I was called multiples slurs, especially f***** and d***,” wrote a contributor to @nccvtspeaks, who identified themself as an alum of St. Georges Tech. “I want to say that St. Georges has some diversity, but it still felt very unsafe while I was there.”

The account dedicated to the University of Delaware, @speakup_delaware, had over 2,500 followers Wednesday. It has shared anonymous stories of marginalized students navigating Greek life, the counseling center, academics and campus police. There are several accounts of sexual assault. 

One contributor recounted a course they took with several other Asian students. “[The professor] consistently mixed up the names of just the Asian students with one another,” they wrote. “The professor never tried to understand [the foreign exchange student’s] accent and instead brushed off all of his comments.”

“I just want to say that I love UD, and I honestly think this page has made me love it more,” another contributor wrote. “It’s far from perfect. But this page has shown that the students and community will come together and fight for change.”

When asked to comment on the Instagram account, UD spokesperson Andrea Boyle Tippett pointed to letters President Dennis Assanis shared with the University community earlier this month on the topic of social justice. 

“Every member of our community — students, faculty, and staff — is welcomed and valued at the University of Delaware,” Assanis wrote in a letter June 4. “We must ensure that everyone is treated with respect and a sense of belonging.” 

He acknowledged that the school must “do more.”

The account for the Wilmington-area private schools was started by an alumnus of Wilmington Friends School. He asked to remain anonymous because he says he’s already experienced threats of violence and exposure. 

He said his goal in creating the account was to “provide a platform to amplify the voices of the voiceless — mainly Black, Indigenous, people of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community.” The account has received around 900 submissions, he says, and has posted about 300.

The Friends alumnus sees the experiences of marginalized students at many Delaware private schools as “painfully similar.” He says the account has revealed “dangerous truths.”

“Marginalized people, minorities in these schools are not protected in the same ways as white kids in these schools,” said the Wilmington resident. “They’re not treated the same ways as white kids in these schools. They're not treated in the same ways as straight kids in these schools. I think it says a lot about the need for representation above all else.”

He has also met with school administrators to push for concrete change— including investigations into any staff named in the stories. He is also advocating for more diversity in staffing and an alumni outreach board to help students connect with alumni of color. 

Wilmington Friends Head of School Ken Aldridge wrote in a letter to the school community Wednesday that the school supports the Instagram account as a “safe space” and is “deeply sorry” for the pain the stories have exposed. 

“Core to Quakerism is continuing revelation, the process of constantly seeking intellectual and spiritual truth,” Aldridge wrote. “Recently, a bright light has shone on the truth that systemic racism exists everywhere, including Wilmington Friends School. As an institution, it is our moral obligation to accept this as truth and keep growing, keep moving forward, and never rest in our work to be an anti-racist school.”

Aldridge says Wilmington Friends will conduct a school climate assessment, document future incidents of bias and keep gathering feedback from Black alumni. 

The New Castle County VoTech District (NCCVT) account is run by a current student and an alumna, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear for their safety. They say the account has received around 400 submissions. They’ve posted just under half of them after trying to vet them for credibility. 

They say the account exposes the pain and trauma that students experience in the classroom.

“Students are like, oh — we know they’re talking about this teacher, we all experienced it,” said the alumna. “It’s crazy to think like, everybody knew it, but nobody spoke up about it.”

The current student of the District says the account has revealed how “masked” the experience of marginalized students is. 

“This page really unveiled that cover and gave students a platform to speak on the negative or covered side of being a student,” she said. 

The two met with District leaders this week to voice specific demands. These include hiring more teachers of color, a revision of the history curriculum to include more African-American and Latinx contributions and more serious punishments for racist behavior. They also want Black Student Unions to be formed at all NCCVT schools. And they demand “thorough investigations” into all of the teachers listed in the stories on @nccvtspeaks. 

NCCVT Superintendent Joe Jones says the District will look into the claims made on the Instagram account — and plans to accommodate one of the organizers’ demands by creating a district-wide Diversity, Inclusion and Equity team. He says the District is already making efforts to recruit a more diverse staff. He also signaled an openness to their demands around curriculum and discipline. 

But the organizers of the Instagram account say District and school leaders did not allow them to discuss their demands in detail during the meeting, instead talking about what the District has already done to advance equity. 

“It’s frustrating that it took all of this to even be acknowledged by our district,” said the current student. “We don’t think it should take all of this. We shouldn’t be committing our summer break to jobs that the District pays people to do.”

 

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