Diversity on trial at a Virginia high school

0

A striking feature of Patriot High School, in northern Virginia’s Prince William County, is that its nearly 2,800-strong student body comes reasonably close to replicating the racial and ethnic demography of the United States itself, meaning it is highly diverse. And much as America’s experiment in pluralism is now being tested, the school and its aspirational motto, “As one,” are undergoing a trial.

It began innocently enough, with hand-drawn posters in a school hallway, affixed to the wall on Feb. 6 by students from Patriot High’s International Club. “As one, we are immigrants,” proclaimed one poster. The others, incorporating the “As one” motif, followed suit to mention Latinos, Asians, Muslims, blacks, LGBTQ people and women. “As one,” read a final poster, touting the school’s mascot, “we are Pioneers.”

At worst, the posters were innocuous, a well-meaning gesture aimed at recognizing some traditionally sidelined groups. Evidently, though, they provoked some hostility; how much is anyone’s guess. By noon the following day, the posters had been removed at the behest of the principal, Michael Bishop, who, after two days of silence, acknowledged that “things got off on the wrong foot and we are hoping to change that.”

Bishop justified his gratuitous act of suppression by suggesting the posters would go back up, perhaps along with others, after a comment period intended, as he put it, “to make the posters more effective and the discussion more meaningful to advancing . . . our goal of creating a school that functions ‘As One.’”

No doubt, navigating frictions over diversity and inclusion in any community, especially a college or school, is an unenviable job. Still, it’s hard to see what good was achieved by removing signs that expressed no ill will, no hostility, no superiority and no anger – not even a garden-variety grievance of the sort that is familiar at innumerable American high school and college campuses. The posters, which said so little, barely even qualified as politically correct.

Rising tensions over immigration and identity are impelled by the nation’s rapidly shifting demographics, including the fact that the foreign-born share of the population, about 13 percent, is about double what it was in 1980 and at its highest point in nearly a century. Still, has the United States become so toxically sectarian that speech concerning any community or identity, however harmless, will engender a backlash? Should students at Notre Dame protest the Fighting Irish if their ancestors hailed from a place other than the Emerald Isle? Should the annual San Gennaro festival in New York City be banned? Is “diversity” itself a dirty word?

It is, to be sure, for some white supremacists, who make the preposterous case that diversity is a dire threat – a creeping genocide, as some racist websites would have it – directed at subjugating America’s white majority. Let’s hope the pushback at Patriot High is not informed by that brand of venom, and that the original posters are restored soon, along with any others that are similarly unobjectionable.

THE WASHINGTON POST

Share