Cold Spring Harbor is a mostly white, affluent school district. It has been consistently ranked as one of the top public schools in the US and NY state but it seems to have fallen down since I was there (graduated in 2009). My cousin and her friends who graduated a year ago created a petition to change policy and culture in the district and encouraged the school to promote diversity.
There was one black student in my grade and someone had called him the N word. He transferred schools shortly afterwards.
Don’t even get me started on the locker rooms during gym and the team buses for sports. Rampant homophobic slurs, racist jokes, and graphic fantasizing about female classmates.
A Jewish friend was subject to anti-Semitic jokes. My closest friend was Hindu and he was also subject to a bevy of racist remarks.
I was one of two Muslim students in my grade. Having attended CSH during the mid-late 2000s, shortly after 9/11 and the war on Iraq, many students ridiculed me for my religion and skin color. They mistakenly assumed I was Arab. They called me terrorist and sand-n word. One kid left me a note during lunch “I’m so scared the terrorists, AKA Nibby will kill me.” I took it to the principal at the time and she said “Well, there’s nothing we can do about it.” The administration completely turned a blind eye to these problems. They didn’t care. Students of color were basically left to fend for themselves.
Every time one particular classmate saw me in the hallways, he would spread his arms open like wings on a plane and “fly” into the lockers and walls.
Special needs kids were bullied as well, often without even realizing it.
I recall an English teacher who had us read “To Kill a Mockingbird.” He would read it to our class, including pronouncing the N word. He justified it with “historical context.”
A teacher was giving a lesson on Islam. He mentioned there are 2 ways to get to heaven. One is by following the 5 Pillars of Islam. He said the other way was “by blowing yourself up.” I immediately called him out and he apologized.
Like others have commented, I learned a lot about American history and racial injustice AFTER I graduated from CSH. I didn’t know much about Malcolm X or what the Black Panther Party was. They never mentioned John Brown. They taught a very one-sided view of American history. The school failed to promote diversity. They seemed more preoccupied with maintaining a certain image than creating a welcome, diverse community. Several have already commented about CSH being a bubble… it’s 1000% true.
Looking back, I realized the pressure to fit into the prototypical CSH student was impossible for me. I wanted to disassociate with my own culture and heritage. Many classmates made me feel they were superior just because I wasn’t white. I am sure others felt the same way. However, I am grateful for the classmates that did stick up for me and the ones who called out racist comments and bigotry.
I am deeply grateful for the alumni who created this petition. From what I have heard, it’s excellent to hear over the past ten years there has been cultural growth. But there is still a long way to go. I hope these stories shared by dozens of alumni help students both past and present understand they are never alone and we are all in this fight to end discrimination, racism and racial injustice together.
Please spread the word and if anyone of you has experienced discrimination growing up please speak up about it. It’s important to tell these stories to help break down these barriers and undo decades of damage so future generations do not have to deal with what millions of students across the country did.