By MADELINE HUGHES
Champlain Valley Union High School officials were alerted last Wednesday afternoon to graffiti at the school with racial undertones. A swastika was found written on a library desk Wednesday afternoon. About 10 days prior, the N-word was drawn on a bathroom wall.
Because of the incidents, the school hosted a group discussion on Friday morning about the incident, and Principal Adam Bunting said roughly 60 students gathered in the library for the meeting.
“We felt a need to address those incidents and send a very clear message that our community is an inclusive one,” Bunting said. “Inclusivity is the fiber of our school and we need to be thoughtful of our words or actions that can lead people to feel marginalized.”
Wrestling with how to confront the instances of intolerance at CVU, Bunting said, “I’m not comfortable with the answer now.”
He noted there was work to be done, and that, thankfully, students were at the forefront of doing that work.
At Friday’s meeting “there was certainly frustration expressed in the community, but there was a sense of students wanting to do the hard work and call people in not out,” Bunting said.
The news of the graffiti came after the Burlington police said three organizations in that city were targeted by a white supremacist group called the “Patriot Front.”
Ohavi Zedek Synagogue, the Pride Center of Vermont and a third organization, which asked the Burlington Police Department not to be named publicly, reported finding stickers and posters at their locations. The stickers included statements reading “Better Dead Than Red” and “America First.”
Hinesburg Police said they recorded the information about the CVU incidents but are currently not investigating because the school is handling the situation. The school graffiti does not appear to be related to the Burlington incidents.
“Most likely, it’s not criminal and the school will handle it,” Police Chief Frank Koss said Friday. “”I’m glad the student came in and admitted it, that shows some responsibility.”
The student who drew the swastika came forward, Bunting said, however the person who wrote the graffiti in the bathroom has not.
Bunting does have hope, knowing there is work to be done on tolerance at many levels, including socio-economic, racial, religious and sexual orientation.
“There was a powerful example of this last week,” the principal said. “We had a student who was joking with some friends who used a homophobic slur, and another student who identifies as gay went and approached that student and confronted that student in a powerful way,” Bunting said. “I got to sit with both students in my office and process that. By the end of the conversation, the student who made the homophobic remark was deeply emotionally affected by that student. And they did it in such a way where the student was calling the other student in, not being aggressive. The student that made the remark gave a heartfelt apology.”
Rep. Kesha Ram, D-Burlington, will give a talk about tolerance at CVU Wednesday, Feb. 20. Students will continue the conversation in their advisory blocks the next day, Bunting said.
VTDigger contributed to this report.