Letter to the Editor: ‘We all need to take responsibility’


(Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this letter are not necessarily those of The Smoke Signal or its staff.)

Dear Editor,

I could pretend to be surprised. Many people are doing so. Symbols of hate have been carved into stalls in the boys bathrooms, and perhaps it was a shock to some, but not to me.

One year before my class entered Pascack Valley, a scandal broke out about white supremacy within the school. Like a stubborn weed, or a bad virus, it has apparently “returned.” When did it leave?

Antisemitism and white supremacy have always persisted within our schools, workplaces, and country, but they have always been something to hide, to be ashamed of. In today’s society and politics, there has been a resurgence of pride in the hatred of others, a quiet and internal rebellion turned outwards into a spew of violent speech and actions. But did these hateful views grow anew? People wait for these symbols appear before they act as if this is a new issue, but the mentality is omnipresent.

If a body shows symptoms, you look for a cause. If a garden is overrun with weeds, you don’t leave the roots. We as a community need to look within ourselves and ask “why” instead of just “what”. We all know what’s wrong. We’ve found the weed, the fever. We cannot follow our past mistakes. We cannot simply cover it up with a band-aid or an assembly, push the virus into the dark in blind dismay where it can propagate and return.

We need antibiotics. More than that we need antibodies that will recognize what sickened our community and safeguard against further growth. But what do we do? How do we as a community move on?

I’m not sure that I’m qualified to say. The first step is that those in charge need to care. For whatever reason, administrators have stepped in and taken the lead. I’ve heard many argue that those in charge don’t care about the students as much as they care about the reputation of the school. As a public institution, I personally don’t fault the administration for caring about public image. Problems come when institutions care more about reputation than students. We need to remember the students that are affected by this. We need to help them heal, and that requires transparency.

We need to keep the parents in the loop as well. We need to remember that they are a pivotal part of the school. We need to connect beyond our community and find out what causes injustice and hatred, not just what to do about it. We need to decide consequences. We need to decide together what will happen, as it will affect us all.

Because as John Donne said, “No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” We all need to take responsibility for this infection within our school. It has thrived only in the absence of consequence. We have all allowed for a normalization of bigotry, a climate of “I was just joking” and an environment that is awash with silent intent. A lack of offense at this moment is akin to acceptance; staying silent is the same as laughter. It’s time to not only vaccinate the school against hatred, but ourselves as well.

-Shauna McLean