Students and educators in Delaware are sharing painful stories of racism they said they've experienced in the hallways and in their classrooms via a new Instagram account which has gained more than 4,400 followers and hundreds of submissions in just the few days since it was launched.
"There are kids who have told these stories to their schools, and no action has been taken."
While not a private school, the Charter School of Wilmington was the subject of many submissions. One student, who claims to be from the school, described himself as a "proud, gay Asian student," according to the Instagram account's founder:
"I moved to American about a year ago, so I have a heavy accent. On my first day in school, in homeroom, I heard a kid mutter to his friend 'Have you seen the new zipperhead sitting behind us?' The next day, I received gruesome Airdropped pictures of Koreans run over by Jeeps in the Korean Wear, which is where the term 'zipperhead' came from."
The creator of the Instagram account said another student shared a story from St. Mark's:
"Our...class was messing around trying to throw pencil into the ceiling...a white kid threw a pencil into the ceiling, and a few seconds [the teacher] walked in, she noticed the pencil and immediately blamed the black kids in class. The white and black kids sat a group away from each other yet she pinned it on the black kids."
A person, who identified themselves as a student from Tower Hill told a story about students who came to school flaunting fake doctor's notes so they could skip Diversity Day, according to the Instagram account's creator.
"That's a horrible toxic culture of a community that's just telling people of color or people who are different, out right, that they don't matter to them."
The founder of the Wilmington Private Schools Speak Instagram account is a 27-year-old Wilmington man, who graduated from Wilmington Friends School. WDEL has agreed to keep further details of his identity concealed due to threats he--and those who've submitted stories--received since founding the account.
Its creation was inspired by a similar account called @blackmainlinespeaks, which shares stories of the black community from Philadelphia's wealthy Main Line area. Anyone can share their stories with @wilmpsspeaks for publication anonymously via a Google Form link on the account's bio.
"Your personal information and identity will not be revealed unless you are choosing to name someone in your story, and again, it will not be revealed unless there's any legal ramifications taken towards our page, meaning if someone tries to say it is slanderous, all you will have to do is privately say to us who you are, so we can know that it is not libel, it is not slander, it is a claim made by a real person and it can be substantiated," he said.
The founder said they try to substantiate every story that's submitted and published.
"The focus of the page is to give voices to the marginalized and to amplify the voices of people who normally would not be able to say anything at all, so we do want to get these stories out in an uncensored fashion," he said. "We mute or asterisk the names of any students who are named in a story that is not substantiated, meaning that the person who has shared the story has not agreed to come forward, if the story is challenged."
Some schools have reached out directly and made public statements to show their support for the Instagram account while the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, in an internal communication obtained by WDEL, called the account an "abuse of social media."
"You may wish to go on record as reporting libelous statements about particular persons mentioned in these posts to the Office of the Attorney General and to the police," said Lou DeAngelo, the superintendent of Catholic Diocese of Wilmington Schools. "Also, you may wish to remind students and their parents about your school's policies related to their responsibility as representatives of your school and the appropriate use of technology. I am sorry we have one more issue to address among other challenges before us."
When asked for a follow-up comment, CDOW spokesman Bob Krebs said:
"We always welcome honest and constructive conversation. However, anonymous personal attacks against faculty and students are not helpful in fostering mutual understanding or a path to move forward," he said in an email.
The founder said he'll continue to be a lightning rod for students despite the threats and doxing.
"It's intense, it's really intense, and it weighs on us, but most importantly, we want everyone to know that we're together in all of this, and they can't silence us all. They can't pretend this problem doesn't exist anymore when we're all here staring it in the face.
Statements of support from various schools will appear further down below in the article.
"I believe that these schools are realizing that one: there are thousands of students all across these private schools that are in completely different parts of the city, and these students are experiencing things that are identical from school to school to school to school. The same core issues are affecting everybody...we realize that this is a larger community problem, and again, realizing this is a larger country problem."
He said the account is aimed at raising awareness.
"Many people did reach out to say...this has illuminated them and given them an eye into worlds that they hadn't seen in their own communities--and that is, of course, surprising, but it is a reality. Everybody's not aware."
It's also aimed at starting a series of tough conversations that are needed to disrupt current cultures in schools with a goal of leading to reforms and, ultimately, systemic changes.
"It shouldn't take a public page to come out for the schools to be addressing these issues. So that means we have to talk about personnel -- one: what personnel is missing? And what personnel is there and they need to go? There are many accused persons in these facilities who need to be questioned about these incidents, to understand what actually happened and what needs to be done going forward."
He also called for staff diversification, including the addition of mental health professionals, who are persons of color.
"Many of these organizations are extremely Caucasian-dominated, and that's something that makes these students of color very uncomfortable when they don't have any outlets, anybody that they can talk to within these schools when these things are happening that actually understand what they're going through. Some people may think that's a rash claim to male, but I believe if those people were there, and there were people who did look like them who could understand what they're going through then this page wouldn't even exist."
He said curriculum also needs to change to be anti-racist.
"What are we actually teaching these kids? What culture is being set up by the information that we are given?"
He called changing the cultures in Delaware and in the country a "long uphill battle."
"We've been dealing with these kinds of things for a very long time--hundreds of years...it's a difficult process, but it's an everyday process. It's actively listening to the changes that you're making, not just putting out gestures that feel like they're enough; not just saying words that feel like they're enough; not having a meeting for worship or sending out an email or making a post on social media."
While the majority of the stories they receive involve the past academic year, some date back decades.
"Its a positive thing, but it makes you feel ashamed that you were part of these communities, where issues like this have repeated themselves over, and over, and over, so many times over decades of time. There are people who are DM'ing us and reaching out from the 80s, and 70s, and 60s. There are people who are reaching out from right now today, and they all have similar stories, and that makes you feel ashamed. But I'm thankful and proud that people both feel connected to the page and feel strong enough to share these stories," he said.
He called the fact that many of the stories are current "dangerous."
"Because the schools can't act like this is a far-off issue, this is far away from us, this is something that we're improving on and getting better with. No. This is a culture that exists right now," he said.
At least two other Instagram accounts have been created to expose allegations of racism in Delaware schools as well.
@depubschoolsspeak, which claims to be inspired by @wilmppspeaks, aims to be a safe space for public school students in Delaware to share experiences with racism and discrimination.
Another Instagram account, @nccvtspeaks, describes itself as "a student-led platform creating a safe space, for all students of color within the" New Castle County Vo-Tech School District.
Statements of support made on social media:
"[It's] saddened to hear of these personal accounts of intolerance that were shared on #wilmpsspeaks and we acknowledge the personal trauma that these situations caused. These actions are not consistent with our beliefs, our values, or our mission. Our hope is that all students--past, present and prospective--feel empowered to engage Archmere in meaningful conversations surrounding equity, inclusion, and allyship, so that we can continue to learn ,grow, and prevent further intolerance on our campus. We are committed to proactively creating these spaces for dialogue and will continue to put in the necessary and meaningful work to combat racism both on campus and in our communities."
"We share in the pain of those current & former Padua students who have experience inexcusable acts of racism & shared them on @wilmpsspeaks. No one should ever have to feel marginalized because of the color of their skin. With that said, Padua Academy is committed to fostering an environment where our entire community always feels heard, affirmed, celebrated, & loved. We must and will do more to create an equitable & inclusive environment for our students & staff of color.
St. Elizabeth School:
"Its following discussions on social platforms and sharing with the senior administration of our school. We are listening. We value our students and their families and take great pride in being a private Catholic school with a diverse student body. We continue to encourage open communication with our students, parents, and community members, and we welcome any member of our community to contact the school administration with concerns, questions, and ideas. Together, we will move forward to create positive change."
"Thank you @wilmpsspeaks for giving students and alumni of the Wilmington private school community the opportunity to voice their experiences. Tatnall is listening, now more than ever. Over the past few weeks, members of Tatnall's faculty, staff, and administration have had school-wide conversations that will produce anti-racist change in our school culture. While our administration works towards institutional change, we encourage all of our community members to engage in dialogue and to share their ideas and experiences. Together, we will come out stronger as a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive school community/"
"Tower Hill is following the experiences shared through @wilmppspeaks and continues to engage students, faculty, parents, and alumni in important dialogue about social justice efforts in our country and at our school. Tower Hill's Commitments Towards Social justice can be found at towerhill.org/socialjustice, including a form for students, alumni, and families to share feedback that goes directly to school administrators."
"@wilmpsspeaks has provided an incredibly valuable platform for people to share their experiences at private schools in Wilmington. WFS is following and reading each post, and we are deeply sorry for the trauma caused by these unacceptable experiences. It is clear that we have to do better, and it is our moral obligation to accept these truths, keep growing, and never rest in our work to be an anti-racist school. We encourage our community to keep sharing, if you would like to use our feedback form, the link is in our bio."
"We support the efforts of @wilmpsspeaks to give voice to those who have suffered racism, bigotry, and injustice. It is shameful that any student would experience this at Salesianum and we are deeply sorry. We have not done enough to confront these issues with the courage that the Gospel demands, but we can and will do better. Your Words Matter. Your Lives Matter. "
"Earlier this month, Ursuline Academy affirmed our commitment to standing with the Black community in the fight against racism in America and doing our part within our school and our community. Through our newly expanded Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Council, we will continue working to foster a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment, and one that prepares the Ursuline community to go out into the world and be change makers. For their full statement, click here."