Warning: Many of the pictures near the end of this piece are racist and upsetting.
On Valentine’s Day, Natasha Daigle, a Burrillville High School junior, was in her English Class presenting her project on segregation in the days of the Roaring 20’s when she herself was confronted with racism. After the completion of all the presentations, a circle/slash “no” symbol over the n-word in large lettering was projected onto a 32×40 inch whiteboard in her classroom. Though it would have been easier to ignore this event, Natasha wanted her story to be heard. I met with Natasha and her mother, Jackie Daigle, at a local Dunkin Donuts.
Natasha is a bright, intelligent, African American young woman with an infectious smile. She is adopted and has an sister who is Latina also a Junior. Her time at Burrillville High School has been challenging. She has had to deal with a lot of racism over the past three years. Most of these incidents have involved just a handful of students, and few students have stood by her side. The N word has been messaged to her on Facebook and posted via Instagram on several occasions. According to Natasha’s adopted sister, even teachers are guilty of racism. One high school social studies teacher allegedly said, “God made a mistake making Black people.”
Natasha has remained strong and says she is determined not to allow racism to get her down.
This last Valentine’s Day, however, was too much for her and her mother to take. They decided to speak out to make sure what happened was not swept under the rug and that racism in Burrillville is discussed and called out. When the words were displayed, said Natasha, all but five classmates decided to laugh about it and turned directly to Natasha while it was displayed, signaling her out. She didn’t cry, or laugh. After the event Natasha emailed the administration to let them know what happened and an incident report was submitted. According to a Facebook post recently taken down, at least 3 students were involved with planning the attack.
In the week since the event Natasha has had conversations with members of the faculty at the high school. Interim Vice Principal Ashley Crenca, according to Natasha, has been a strong advocate on her behalf. On Friday, her mother Jackie Daigle had her first conversation with Superintendent Dr Michael Sollitto. The meeting was productive and Sollitto discussed with Jackie the need for racial diversity training for staff and teachers. Sollitto also said that there was a police investigation underway. Jackie expressed surprise that her daughter had not been contacted by the police or the school resource officer.
Jackie believed that the police missed an opportunity by not interviewing Natasha and the other students in the classroom right away. She felt that it was imperative to get kids talking before students could be corced into changing their stories. To date, one student has been reprimanded and has been suspended for 10 days. However, Natasha does not believe the suspended student is the main person behind the incident. Natasha and her mother are hoping that students more responsible for the action will be identified and that justice will be served. In the meantime, Jackie is concerned for the wellbeing of both her daughters and is afraid that their grades may suffer due to this incident.
Natasha remains in strong spirits. She does not want to see any students expelled but does believe that anyone involved in the incident should be suspended and that they should write her letters of apology. Natasha and her mom think that racism has increased since Trump has been in office and they felt more protected under Obama. Looking forward to her senior year, Natasha has aspirations of attending Johnson & Wales for forensic psychology or behavioral analysis. She knows that both degrees would require a lot of work but it is clear she is up to the challenge.