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SaMoHi is the common name for for Santa Monica High School.
Photo by Christopher Rosacker
SaMoHi is the common name for for Santa Monica High School.

Samohi, Opinion, Santa Monica, What Say You

Wrestling With Questions in High School Race Incident

What Say You?

Posted Jul. 19, 2011, 1:20 am

Susan Cloke / Mirror Columnist

May 4, 2011. Santa Monica High School. A brown practice dummy with a rope around its neck, an African-American student chained to a locker, and racial slurs being used, are all allegations currently under investigation by the Santa Monica Police Department. Depending on the outcome of the investigation the involved students could be charged with battery and with violation of the hate crimes law, a serious charge with potentially severe consequences.

I was interested in what students at the school were saying and thinking. When I asked some of the Santa Monica High School (SaMoHi) students what they thought, I got some surprising answers. Although my sample was not large enough to be statistically significant, it was unusual in the consistency of the responses. For example, I learned that racial “jokes” happen all the time in high school. That friends will call each other by names that, in the past, would have been considered racist, and that this will happen among students without regard to their ethnic heritage or racial identity.

Okay. That might be true with regard to language. Culture changes. Language changes to reflect the changes in the culture. But what does this say about the actions in the locker room?

Student responses to the May 4 incidents seemed to divide the act into two parts - the chaining and the rope around the dummy. Chaining students to lockers is something that has commonly been done to other wrestling team members, has been considered a “prank” where no one got physically hurt and has been part of wrestling team locker room culture at SaMoHi for a long time.

By contrast, the rope around the dummy was understood as “horribly wrong.” It was also characterized as “teenage immaturity” and “really bad judgment.” It was not something that had happened before, not part of the wrestling team culture.

In fact, it was a student at the school, a member of the wrestling team, who walked into the wrestling area, saw the dummy, saw the way the other team members were reacting, and immediately took the dummy down because he didn’t want any of his teammates’ feelings to be hurt.

The wrestling team culture, and apparently every team has its own traditions and history of “pranks,” has also been described as one where the team members are bonded to one another, as “having each other’s backs.” It’s a demanding sport and the student wrestlers are together a lot, at practice, at tournaments, and they become very close.

The wrestling team students who were involved were suspended from school. The wrestling team as a whole lost their locker room privileges. They will also participate, as student teachers, in a section of the “Freshman Seminar” – a class designed specifically to study the hateful and violent effects of discrimination and racism and to teach tolerance and understanding to students.

So many questions must be asked and answered. Because of the history of racial abuse in our country, allegations of racism must be taken seriously. It will be up to the Santa Monica police to investigate and determine the answer as to whether or not this is a hate crime. It will be up to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to determine whether the Administration responded appropriately.

Where does all this belong in the larger culture? What does all this say about youth/boy culture? Is this the same thing that has been going on for years, a holdover from past concepts of masculinity? Is it bullying? Is it hazing?

The wrestling team at SaMoHi is racially diverse and although, still mainly boys, girls have shown more interest and are now part of the team. In other youth sports, when girls joined teams, their presence often changed locker room culture. Will that pattern be repeated?

The righteous rejection of racism, the concerns of the damage and destruction caused by racism, and the fear that it is emerging at the school are all central tenets in this discussion. The idea that the students involved will be judged, not by their actions and intent, but by the perceptions of the past, needs to be examined. The generational change in culture needs to be understood. There is the concern that the wrestling team, as a whole, will suffer for the actions of a few. The school community may have to look at the possibility that they will be legally required to make decisions and take actions which are not in the best interests of the students involved, the other wrestling team members, and of the entire student body.

It is important that these questions get asked and that, as a community, we set standards. These are hard questions. Questions that require careful and thoughtful examination and open discussion.

In every crisis there is also opportunity. My hope is the school, the administration, the students, the district board members, the parents, and all of Santa Monica will use this as a learning opportunity to re-examine the question of racism. Equally important is that we discuss and deliberate on the events of May 4 in a principled way and that the process itself exemplifies the tolerance and empathy we hope to teach our students.

What Say You?

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Comments

Jul. 19, 2011, 6:28:45 am

Don Ricarcdo said...

It almost seems like you are saying what happened here was kids being kids, and that the "culture" is so hypersensitive kids just can't be kids anymore. And that these pranks are "Team Building" exercises. What should happen is the students should be suspended, the coaches should be fired for trying to cover it up. And you should stop writing like this. I know you guys at the mirror are a step below a blogger writing at home in his underpants so that's why what you write is so ridiculous. Not because you're in your underpants, but because you're bad writers, and maybe a bit racist yourselves. Here's the deal...Racism doesn't need to be reexamined. It's not acceptable. If you practice it, and get caught practicing it, you're done. Zero Tolerance

Jul. 19, 2011, 7:14:00 am

Steve Stajich said...

I'm not certain the individual columnists are supposed to communicate back and forth by means of this web feature, but in either case... Susan, great job. I think that there's a generational... let's call it a grasp... of race and racial sensitivity that is based on but not the same as the one our generation, witnessing the civil rights movement in our youth, has. Some worry that there's overall less consideration, but I think what exists is a different context. Then, of course, you have to acknowledge that context in regard to race can be everything. Is the franchise name Atlanta Braves witty to Native Americans? I think at the end of the day, we must remain vigilant with education regarding what has come before, historically. (Stajich)

Jul. 19, 2011, 7:24:41 am

Nina said...

If those activities were intended to be pranks, then they students pulling them off need to be better educated as to what lines can and cannot be crossed. That kind of behavior should absolutely be considered unacceptable- period. In high school and in the larger society. Anyone over the age of ten who doesn't understand the ramifications of hanging a brown practice dummy up by a noose- and the ways in which it echoes lynchings from a generation ago-either isn't solidly educated in U.S. history... or severely lacks a moral compass. Certainly, those students need to learn to think and behave differently- but excusing their actions won't teach them anything.

Jul. 19, 2011, 8:07:26 am

Adam Kervotz said...

Is SMMUSD/SAMOHI even doing anything? Seems like the people of santa monica are making this more of an issue than the school district. Guess they are just over it.

Jul. 20, 2011, 10:46:48 am

SHERRI said...

I HAVE BEEN PART OF THIS CITY FOR MANY YEARS. I MYSELF WENT TO SAMHO MY CHILDREN WENT TO SAMHO MY NIECE JUST GRADUATED AND MY NEPHEW STILL ATTENDS. I AM UPSET ABOUT HOW THIS WAS HANDELED FROM THE BEGINGING. MY BIGEST ISSUE IS WHY WAS THE PARENT NOT THE 1ST PERSON NOTIFIED AND ASKED TO COME TO THE SCHOOL THAT DAY TO GET HER SO!!!! I CAN TELL YOU IF THIS WERE MY CHILD AND THE SCHOOL HANDLED IT IN THIS MANNER U BETTER BELIEVE I WOULD BE EXTREAMLY LOAD ABOUT IT!! WHAT HAPPEDED WAS SO WRONG BEYOND WORDS.. HORSE PLAY MY FOOT. THOSE BOYS KNEW BETTER AND WHY NOT REALLY FIND OUT WHY THIS WAS SWEEPT UNDER THE CARPET WHO'S CHILDREN WERE INVOLVED????? WHEN U ANSWER THAT ? YOU WILL FIND OUT WHY IT WAS HANDELED IN THE MANNER IT WAS. MY SISTER IS PART OF THE E-MAIL SHE NEVER RECIEVED AN E-MAIL REGARDING THIS MY NEPHEW IS AN ATHLETE HE NEVER RECIEVED CONCELING. MATER OF FACT THE 1ST TIME I HEARD BAOUT IT WAS READING ABOUT IT IN THE MIRROR THE 1ST TIME MY SISTER HEARD ABOUT IT WAS WHEN IT MADE THE TV NEWS.. IT HAS BEEN OVER 2 MONTHS AND NO ANSWERS...

Jul. 27, 2011, 4:55:17 pm

Tom said...

If any one knows the kids on the team they would know this is all adults making a big deal out of kids being kids with no intentional harm intended. This is the wrestling team the are close and they mess with each other . If you have ever gone to see them they are a team black,white, girls and boys. The adults have all now taken something way out of proportion Please get back to wrestling!

Aug. 2, 2011, 4:53:54 pm

dog is my copilot said...

It appears from reading about this incident in the Mirror, the coaches, teachers, and administrators seem to passively condone "Hazing". That is a serious problem if the situation is as presented. The "pranks" should be unacceptable and not tolerated. If any of these school employees try to justify or sweep it under the carpet, they should be fired.

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