As conversations about anti-racism continue in the workplace, the discussion is now extending to the classrooms at some of Jacksonville’s most prestigious and elite schools. But the only way many students feel comfortable speaking up is anonymously, a new Instagram trend reveals.
Over the last week, students at schools across Jacksonville — including The Bolles School, Bishop Kenny High School, Episcopal School of Jacksonville and Stanton College Preparatory School — launched new Instagram accounts to elevate Black students’ voices and document examples of systemic racism at school.
The accounts all follow a similar format: They’re titled “Black At [the respective school]” and include a link to a survey where students, parents, alumni and faculty are encouraged to share their perspective anonymously. Those survey responses are then posted publicly on the Instagram accounts.
All four Jacksonville-based Instagram accounts share a similar mission: to bring awareness to the discrimination students say they face while trying to learn.
Due to their anonymous nature, the Times-Union is unable to independently verify the accuracy of the comments or that the comments are only coming from the school’s respective community. Moderators say that’s the only way students feel comfortable speaking out.
“I believe that the anonymity of the outlet allows for Black students to share their experiences without fear of judgement,” a moderator for the Black at SCP [Stanton College Preparatory] said. “It’s important because it allows them to speak about the racism they face without the worry that the people who are partaking in the action will invalidate their experience or make excuses for it. In many of the responses, the student said that they didn’t feel as though they could speak out about the situation.”
Nationally, the Black At accounts are predominately affiliated with private and charter schools, but some universities and traditional public schools are also represented. According to the nonprofit education news publication Chalkbeat, private schools play a disproportionate role in segregating American schoolchildren by race.
A Black student who still attends Bishop Kenny, and asked for their name not to be published, praised the Black At BK [Bishop Kenny] account. They told us about their experience as a Black student at the private school.
“One of the biggest telltale signs of racism at Bishop Kenny was my first day,” the student said. “At my old school, I never felt like I didn’t belong. But at Bishop Kenny, I am sometimes the only black student or one of two black students in my AP classes.”
On the student’s first day of school, they said the AP teacher asked if they were in the right place and if they were sure they weren’t supposed to be in “regular class.” They said the teacher instructed them to wait outside the classroom until they could verify with a guidance counselor they were in the right room.
The student added that racial slurs are commonly used by white students.
“Students ... were asking me if I could give them an N-word pass ... and would say I was the ‘whitest black person’ they knew,” they said. “I felt discredited. What is someone of color supposed to sound like? It was a normal occurrence but you don’t speak up about it because you’d be isolated.”
In Jacksonville, the first account to launch was at Episcopal School of Jacksonville. In its six days on the platform, the account has garnered over 1,000 followers and has already posted almost 100 submissions.
The school responded with a Tuesday morning post on its own Instagram account, thanking users for sharing their concerns.
“We are working towards engaging the entire community in these crucial conversations so we can truly better our school environment,” the post said.
Head of Schools Rev. Adam Greene told the Times-Union that reading the posts on Black At ESJ’s [Episcopal School of Jacksonville] page was “painful.”
“Our mission is to offer a nurturing and compassionate environment — one that is welcoming to all,” he said. “We will be doing more to combat racism as we begin the 2020-21 school year and in the years to come.”
Cumulatively, the four Jacksonville school accounts have collected about 3,000 followers as of publication time.
“It’s important to give [students] an outlet like this because some people feel as if their voices aren’t being heard,” a Black at BK moderator said. “It also gives our community more awareness of what is happening.”
Submissions range from recounts of Black students who were called racial slurs, to examples of unequal treatment in school hallways, in the classroom, on the football field and even online.
Taylor Richardson, 16, a Black student at The Bolles School, said she’s encountered racism and microaggressions on campus herself. She praised the Black at Bolles account for “having the courage to allow so many of us to have this safe space and to know you, I, we are not alone.”
“It has been extremely painful to read about the experiences at Bolles involving racial unrest and discrimination on this account,” a statement from The Bolles School said. “We want our community to truly know we are closely listening and following each personal experience to help us implement change, and to ensure that every Bolles student will continue to thrive on our campuses.”
Instances of bullying are common among Black students according to all four accounts’ posts. Studies show that Black students are disproportionately likely to be bullied at school.
“Black students do not have a voice on campus unless it is in line with the white status quo,” the Black At Bolles moderators said. “Too many instances of racism have occurred, with no meaningful disciplinary actions taken.”
The four accounts also reveal patterns in the anti-racist experiences students say they’ve had.
One Bolles student’s post said their teacher would read the N-word when the class studied “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” A student at Episcopal School had the same complaint, saying the N-word was read “over 200 times” during the class reading of the same book.
“Unfortunately, none of these responses have been surprising,” the moderators at Black At Bolles said. “We have heard different versions of these same stories for years.”
The Times-Union reached out to Bolles and Episcopal administrators asking if the schools give guidance for approaching the reading of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” in class. Over the last decade, public schools have either removed the book from its curriculum entirely or read versions of the book that substitute the N-word.
“We hope that people will open their eyes to the reality of racism happening everywhere, including their own school,” one of the Black At BK moderators said. “People need to educate themselves in order to eliminate the ignorance and stereotypes they have about Blacks and other minorities.”
Moderators at Bolles shared a similar hope, adding that they’re working with Black students and allies to form a list of demands for the school to be more inclusive.
“We hope that the school makes an honest and legitimate effort to eradicate this toxic campus culture on every level,” the moderators said. “The overall goal of our demands is to largely increase the diversity, and celebration of diversity as a whole.”
These anonymous accounts aren’t isolated to Jacksonville. Across the country, Black At Instagram accounts are appearing on the platform. The Times-Union found dozens of Black At accounts in places ranging from New Jersey and Chicago to Massachusetts and Virginia.
“We are aware of the page and are taking its content very seriously,” Bishop Kenny Principal Todd Orlando said.
At Episcopal School of Jacksonville, Rev. Greene confirmed the school’s Awareness, Inclusion and Diversity Council would be hosting a series of forums where current students and alumni can discuss racism. Greene confirmed the school is also considering curriculum updates to ensure inclusivity.
“This is just the beginning as we consider other opportunities and structural changes,” he said. “We are deeply sorry members of our community feel they have not been heard or their issues have not been addressed.”
Emily Bloch: (904) 359-4083