The first black female student body president at the prestigious Lawrenceville School near Princeton, N.J., was forced to resign from her position after posting an Instagram photo depicting what she described as a typical “Lawrenceville boy.”
Maya Peterson, who graduated from the high school in June following the March incident, was told she would face disciplinary action if she didn’t resign for mocking her rich, white classmates with the hashtags “#romney2016,” “#confederate,” and “#peakedinhighschool.” She said she posted the photograph as a joke, inspired by classmates who complained to the school’s dean of students about Peterson’s own senior photo, in which she and 10 friends, all black, raised their fists in a “Black Power” salute.
“Lawrenceville boi’s,” however, weren’t laughing.
According to Buzzfeed:
“You’re the student body president, and you’re mocking and blatantly insulting a large group of the school’s male population,” one student commented on the photo.
“Yes, I am making a mockery of the right-wing, confederate-flag hanging, openly misogynistic Lawrentians,” Peterson responded. “If that’s a large portion of the school’s male population, then I think the issue is not with my bringing attention to it in a lighthearted way, but rather why no one has brought attention to it before…”
Even faculty members were uncomfortable with the photograph of Peterson rocking LL Bean boots, wearing a Yale sweatshirt, and holding a hockey stick.
A critical mass of faculty members and students believed “it was not fitting of a student leader to make comments mocking members of the community,” Dean of Students Nancy Thomas told the Lawrenceville student paper.
But for Peterson, the pushback was indicative of more — Lawrenceville’s historically predominately white population, who never wanted Peterson to be president, and her own frustration. The former student body president said she was sick of fighting the racism, discriminatory attacks, and privilege of white elites at the school.
Peterson, a tall, animated 17-year-old with flowing dreads and thick-rimmed glasses who ran on a platform of “inclusion and acceptance and pride in oneself,” wasn’t just the first black woman to serve as student body president — she’s an out lesbian too. She won the election by reaching out to students whom other candidates overlooked, including freshmen and minorities, other students said.
The dissent was almost automatic.
The backlash to her election led to personal attacks. Shortly after Peterson was elected, an anonymous student sent the dean of students photos of Peterson using marijuana. Soon after, the school received more anonymous information that alleged Peterson had posted racist tweets about a Sikh student. In a school-wide meeting, Peterson apologized for the photos and the dean of students clarified that the racist tweets were fabricated. Still, many students believed she wasn’t right for the position.
“There was too much controversy around Maya,” said Rob, a rising senior. “We didn’t really want a president who breaks school rules. It isn’t a representation of who we are.”
Peterson was frustrated that the school didn’t investigate her anonymous attackers, even after another scary incident in the winter, when someone sent an email to the freshman class containing photos of Peterson half naked in her room. Peterson had no idea where the sender had gotten those photos, she said, and the administration, while sympathetic, didn’t either — or didn’t tell her if they did.
Enter Peterson’s mockery. She told Buzzfeed this regarding the photo that forced her out of her presidency:
“I understand why I hurt people’s feelings, but I didn’t become president to make sure rich white guys had more representation on campus,” she said. “Let’s be honest. They’re not the ones that feel uncomfortable here.”
And though Lawrenceville administration boasts of their changing demographic (the percentage of black and Hispanic students rose to 16 percent in 2014), black students who spoke to Buzzfeed detailed the major racial divide on campus.
Many said they had been called racial epithets, ranging from “Negro amigo” to “n***er,” by white peers who didn’t understand “why they couldn’t say the word too.”
One student said she overheard her white male classmates call black students on an opposing basketball team “Trayvon,” after Trayvon Martin. Another pointed out a newspaper op-ed by a white student criticizing a Black History Month celebration for “descending” into a rap performance “crafted with too little, if any, subtlety.”
Still, few if any are called out for their racist attacks. Peterson, however, has been deemed hateful by many students for the mild photograph.
“It was hateful. It wasn’t inclusive. When I think of Maya Peterson, I don’t think of someone who is an avid proponent of progress or of inclusiveness. I think of someone who is hateful. She had a hateful spirit,” said David, a student at Lawrenceville.
Peterson has a different view.
“I’m not saying what I did was right,” she said. “But it wasn’t racist. I was just calling those guys exactly what they are. And Lawrenceville is the type of place where those kids are idolized.”
SOURCE: Buzzfeed | PHOTO CREDIT: Instagram