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Offending students at East Catholic should be on a bus to Montville

School officials at East Catholic, in the wake of the effortless, flaunted racism at last Friday's football game aimed at cheerleaders from Montville High, have their Robert Frost moment.

Two roads have diverged. They cannot take both. They will either continue to benignly neglect the school's intolerant culture or begin the process of meaningful change, which needn't be as punitive as it is poignant.

It is their choice. It is their choice to be thorough and sincere, well beyond Wednesday's surface level meeting with Montville officials at CIAC headquarters. A bunch of suits spewing idealistic bromides at each other won't solve a problem that's endemic.

As you will read, intolerance is de rigueur in the building. Racist incidents have happened before at East Catholic, explained away through lip service and the empty words of the school handbook. The Montville kids won't be the last victims.

A primer for the uninitiated: A Montville cheerleader says she was screamed at, spat on and called a racist slur by students at East Catholic following last Friday night's football game in Manchester. Nadya Wynn, 16, was told "go home, n-----" as she was attempting to grab her bag to leave the game.

Wynn said East Catholic students taunted the Montville cheerleaders, spit on them and threw water on them, later using the N-word. She said the East Catholic football players stomped on the cheerleaders' belongings.

Montville resident Melissa Mikula said she heard the students calling Wynn the racial slur. Brandon Brown, whose son plays for Montville, said he saw East Catholic students spit on and push the cheerleaders while stepping on their belongings.

There is no denying the events that the cheerleaders and other bystanders recall with clarity and consistency. Their claims are sustained by a similar story from East Catholic's recent past. The Hartford Courant reported in 2020 videos of two white East Catholic students using a racial slur on social media.

"The two clips, which have been shared publicly on several social media platforms and viewed thousands of times, show each girl blatantly using the N-word. Both students are white," the newspaper reported. "In one clip, a student mimics a parent asking their child, 'Sweetie, what do you want to be for Halloween?' The student then responds to herself in a high-pitched voice, using the N-word and giggling."

At the time, East Catholic president Sean P. Brennan told the Courant, "We do not condone such behavior and will immediately be addressing these transgressions with the students and their families. The expectation of all East Catholic students, faculty, and staff is that they live lives of kindness and compassion. When anyone falls short of these expectations there needs to be appropriate consequences, and there will be."

Au contraire, Mr. Brennan. At least according to the Instagram page "ExposingECHS," with more than 300 followers. A few posts:

"As a former student who is Asian, I can say that East Catholic is a school seeped in longstanding cultures of racism and discrimination. People would shamelessly pull their eyes back in front of me to mock the shape of my eyes and say, 'am I Asian now?'"

"I was just a freshman at East and being a Jewish boy at a Catholic school I expected to be a little out of place — but not as much as I was. Every day I was asked if I was related to Anne Frank or if the oven burned me. But when I would ask someone to stop or call a teacher for help, they would push it aside, saying no one at East would do such a thing."

After the story in the Courant surfaced, Keren Prescott, founder of "Power Up Manchester," an organization advocating social and legislative change and amplifying voices of the marginalized, met with East Catholic officials. She wasn't surprised at the incident involving Montville.

"They didn't get the message. We knew that they wouldn't," Prescott said Tuesday in a phone conversation. "Racism is learned behavior. They don't want to get the picture. But that doesn't mean the Black students who I worked with at the time of the other incident don't have the right to be heard."

Prescott helped organize a protest outside campus and spoke at a rally.

"I attended a meeting of Black students who were upset and traumatized by other students and teachers and staff who would turn the other way," she said. "They wanted to be heard. We wanted the opportunity to build relationships to make the school environment safer. These are the people who claim 'all lives matter' so why not make place safe for all lives?"

Mr. Brennan, in the wake of the incident with Montville, told The Day's Johana Vazquez that "while they do not believe anything inappropriate was said at Friday's game, the school would continue to investigate and take the matter seriously."

Brennan: "East Catholic High School is a community where all students are accepted and appreciated, and we have a zero tolerance policy for derisive and or unkind words or behavior directed at fellow students or students from other schools. We have been in contact with the CIAC and will cooperate with any next steps."

East Catholic does not need CIAC intervention to move this forward meaningfully. Its "investigation" should be no more complicated than identifying the offending parties and situating them on a bus headed to Montville High. The students in question should apologize face to face to the kids they offended and then be made to sit there quietly and listen to how hurtful their words and actions truly were.

Assigning them detention or suspending them from school would only inflame divisiveness and encourage victimhood among the guilty.

Would listening to the Montville kids resonate with all the bus riders? Doubtful. It's hard to undo what's condoned in the home. But as education helps us evolve, perhaps a few East Catholic students would think twice next time before they repeat what they hear in the houses.

Again: This is East Catholic's choice. Benign neglect just makes the next such incident inevitable. Here is how author Brene Brown describes it:

"When the culture of any organization mandates that it's more important to protect the reputation of a system and those in power than it is to protect the basic human dignity of the individuals serving that system or who are served by that system," she wrote, "you can be certain that the shame is systemic, the money is driving ethics and the accountability is all but dead. If you think of any major scandal fueled by cover-ups, you'll see the same pattern. And the restitution and resolution of cover-ups almost always happens when one person steps outside their bunker and tells the truth."

I pray there's someone with such courage at East Catholic.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

 

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