Students at Newberg High School in Oregon reportedly participated in a virtual “slave trade” where they shared photos of their Black classmates in a social media group chat and discussed how much they were going to purchase them to mimic a slave auction.
The school’s principal, Tami Erion, told KGW News in a statement that the students who participated in the so-called “slave trade” group chat on Snapchat, also used racist and homophobic slurs.
Parents got to know about the group chat on the same day the Newberg school board was scheduled to hold a discussion on its decision to ban Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ Pride symbols on campus. The school board claims such symbols are politically controversial.
Erion told the news outlet they got to know about the incident on Friday though the group conversation in question “originated” in Michigan late last year. She also addressed the incident on Tuesday in a letter to the school community.
Screenshots of the chats reportedly showed the participants sharing photos of their Black classmates and talking about their worth as well as their personal lives. Some of the comments the participants made in the chat included, “All Blacks should die”, “Let’s have another Holocaust” and “They like picking cotton.”
“My heart is so broken for these kids who have gotten the message that they are not even seen as human by some of their fellow students,” Heidi Pender, the parent of a student, said. “To imagine your own child being talked about as if they were subhuman slaves to be sold by other students, it made me feel like I was going to throw up.”
Erion, in the statement, also condemned the incident, saying the school was “deeply dismayed” by such “behavior.” “As a community, we continue to grapple with issues of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging,” Erion added. “Newberg High School is committed to ensuring that ALL students are afforded a safe learning environment by prohibiting harassment based upon gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion or disability.”
But despite Erion’s assurances, some parents told KGW News their children worry about their welfare in the school – particularly when authorities have banned Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ Pride signs on campus. Parents of Black students had also initially argued that displaying Black Lives Matter signs on campus would provide a safe haven for students who experience racism.
“For my daughter who is Black, it’s confusing for her, why people would be against saying her life matters,” Pender said. “Those words just mean what they say: Black lives matter. For her to have adults who are in charge of her school district say teachers are not allowed to tell you that your life matters is very confusing and a very hurtful message for her.”
The school board held a meeting on Tuesday to discuss the ban, OPB reported. They, however, did not reverse the decision they officially approved in August.