When Lawrenceville School Student Body President Maya Peterson and 10 friends, all black, raised their fists in a “Black Power” salute for their senior photo, their classmates complained to the school’s dean of students about the photo. Maya retaliated by posing for an Instagram photo, dressed up at the typical “Lawrenceville boi” to mock her white male classmates but it seems like they’re the ones that’ll be having the last laugh. Maya was forced to resign from her post as student body president because of the Instagram picture, in which she posed wearing an L.L. Bean boots and a Yale University sweater with a hockey stick. She included hashtags like “#romney2016,” “#confederate,” and “#peakedinhighschool” in the caption, and many of the students took offense.
One commented on the picture saying: “You’re the student body president, and you’re mocking and blatantly insulting a large group of the school’s male population.” Peterson responded “Yes, I am making a mockery of the right-wing, confederate-flag hanging, openly misogynistic Lawrentians. 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.”
But most of the classmates and faculty aren’t siding with Maya. The Dean of Students Nancy Thomas told the Lawrenceville student paper that many believed “it was not fitting of a student leader to make comments mocking members of the community.” To that end, the administration forced Peterson, the first black woman to serve as student body president at The Lawrenceville School, to resign. They said she would face disciplinary action unless she stepped down.
Peterson told Buzzfeed: “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. Let’s be honest. They’re not the ones that feel uncomfortable here.” Buzzfeed reports that there is major racial tension at the school, which costs $53,000 a year to attend:
Many [black students] 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.”
Peterson told the Lawrenceville student paper that she wanted to help make the school a “truly unified and diverse” institution but with her forced resignation, those efforts have now been thwarted. We can’t help but wonder how this situation would have played out if the races were reversed.