“Open dialogue” key to ending racism at Amherst Regional High School

AMHERST, Mass. (WWLP) – It’s been five days since racist graffiti was found on a bathroom wall at Amherst Regional High School. 22News spoke with people in Amherst about how they think the school should prevent racism. Parents, the school principal and people in the community agree talking about racism problems is key to prevention.

An Amherst Regional High School math teacher has been out of school for days after the principal said she’s been the target of racism three times this year. The question now is: how can racism be prevented in the future? Many in the community say the answer is through education and open dialogue. Some parents are concerned school administrators aren’t doing that.

“I believe for fear that it may make it seems as if this is the culture of the school but we know that racism thrives when people are silent,” said Sonji Johnson-Anderson of Amherst.

Hampshire College student Sara Coughlin said she’s not surprised. “Something really similar to that happened at my high school when I was a freshman…It should be something that’s talked about. I think workshops could be involved or dialogues or something like that,” said Coughlin.

Principal Mark Jackson gave 22News this document which shows how the school did immediately respond to the incident. In it, it shows how teachers met with each other then with each student to discuss the severity of racist graffiti. On Monday, 22News spoke with Jackson.

“We’re actively trying to both be honest about it and acknowledge it and work to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Principal Jackson said.

22News returned to the school on Wednesday. In the halls were signs saying “We Won’t Tolerate Hate.”

“Having these conversations, having these tough issues but also not leaving it on students of color to be talking about these issues,” Jennifer Sensenich of Amherst told 22News.

The school is still trying to figure out who wrote the racist graffiti.