BRIARWOOD, QUEENS — A Catholic Queens high school’s statement denouncing “all acts and rhetoric of racism,” issued in response to the nationwide protests over George Floyd’s killing at the hands of police, is prompting hundreds of students and alumni to come forward with their own stories of acts and rhetoric of racism — from their peers and teachers.
Their stories of Archbishop Molloy High School are from as recently as two weeks ago and as far as two decades ago. They include: a science teacher using the N-word during a Zoom class last month; a social studies teacher telling a Puerto Rican student that she should wear an orange jumpsuit for World Heritage Day; a student writing on a music stand that the music teacher, who is Asian, eats dogs; students in white hoods posting a selfie with the caption “clikkk.”
More than 20 current students and alumni spoke to Patch for this article. Their stories of Archbishop Molloy paint a pattern of unfettered racist and hateful rhetoric by teachers and students that they say have been continually swept under the rug, leaving students of color feeling that they have no place to turn.
“Racist, bigotry, divisiveness — they’ve always let it slide,” DiAvionne Waithe, a junior at Molloy, told Patch in a phone interview. Waithe and her mother gave permission for her name to be used in this article. “It’s tiring. Why do I have to go through this?”
Archbishop Molloy’s top administrators did not respond to an emailed list of questions accompanied by a list of specific allegations included in this article, but the school issued a new statement Wednesday afternoon addressing its original response to current events that has since been deleted, along with hundreds of comments that followed.
The school — which educated such notables as Governor Andrew Cuomo — also archived its Facebook group for its alumni which means members can no longer post or comment inside the group, according to a screenshot shared with Patch.
“Together we must openly acknowledge and recognize that racism is deeply ingrained in our society, and we must all actively work to end it,” the school wrote in its revised statement, which was signed by President Richard Karsten and Principal Darius Penikas.
It is no coincidence that the outpouring of stories resulted from the school’s response to the demonstrations against police brutality and racism happening across the country. Archbishop Molloy’s ties to the world of law enforcement run deep. The school even has an alumni association specifically for graduates in law enforcement and others who wear a badge, like firefighters.
Among the alumni who have gone on to serve with the NYPD is former Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, whose trademark policy of stop-and-frisk policing was later ruled unconstitutional.
“The lack of accountability of these students when they engage in racist or sexist behavior, they’re never corrected or held accountable for their actions, and it’s no surprise to me when they enroll in NYPD or end up in positions of power at organizations and they then perpetuate this,” said Sarah Sukumaran, a 2004 graduate.
Hundreds of students and alumni started sharing their stories in the comments section of Archbishop Molloy’s now-deleted Instagram post addressing the Black Lives Matter protests following George Floyd’s death.
“We at Molloy fundamentally denounce all acts and rhetoric of racism, hatred, bigotry, violence, and divisiveness,” the post read. “We ask that our community pray for all victims of injustice, that justice may always be served. We also pray for those who are commissioned to protect and safeguard the well-being of all.”
Even though the school deleted the post and the comments that went along with it, the stories live on in screenshots shared on social media, including an anonymous website started to collect stories of racial profiling and discrimination at Molloy and an Instagram account called humansofamhs.
As the students and alumni who spoke to Patch characterized it, racism is normalized in the hallways of Molloy. They say teachers tell them they’re just playing devil’s advocate, or they were just giving an example. They say it was a joke.
Waithe, the current junior, recounts a class last month with a science teacher over the video-conferencing platform Zoom. The teacher broke into a story of a time he supposedly punched a student he taught at another school in the 1980s because his students were swearing and being loud.
In reenacting the story, he said the N-word three times, she said.
“I couldn’t believe he said that,” Waithe said. “I knew that previously students had accused him of saying that, but I didn’t think it was true.”
She reported it to the principal, Darius Penikas, according to email screenshots reviewed by Patch.
“So, just so I am clear, he used the words to repeat what past students said? He was not directing this language at anyone nor was he using it in his regular speech?” Penikas wrote back on May 19. “I will speak with (him) to make sure this never happens again. Please accept our apologies as a school, we never tolerate the use of speech such as this, even in recounting a story.”
Yet Waithe said her English teacher also used the N-word when they read “To Kill A Mockingbird” in class, and that he told students they could say it, too. She said another student in the class later came up to her and said the N-word, then said he was just “rehearsing” for class.
“Every day I’d go to Molloy and, at least once, I’d hear a white kid scream out the N-word,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense that it’s 2020 and I have to feel uncomfortable walking down the halls because one kid wants to call out the N-word and call me a slave.
“It’s heartbreaking to see that stuff like this is normalized. Teachers are making it seem like it’s okay.”
Logan Boldeau, who graduated in 2016, recalled a moment in his creative writing class when another student, reading aloud from his journal for the class, said, “He wanted to hang [N-word] from a tree like Emmett Till.”
Boldeau reported it, which led to a 15-minute-long meeting with school administrators. The student was sent home two hours early.
“He said, ‘Well, he’s not actually going to do it. It’s creative, he can say how he feels.'” Boldeau recalls an administrator telling him during that meeting.
The student came back to school the next day like usual, according to Boldeau.
“The administration does nothing to protect their students of color,” Boldeau said.
To one recent alumna, who asked to remain anonymous, Molloy perpetuates a vicious cycle. She said the staff and teachers — nearly all of whom are white, according to the school’s website — convey a message to students that their rhetoric and behavior is acceptable by using it themselves or allowing it to happen, and the students mimic that. Then, they get hired; Molloy is known for employing alumni, she explained.
“No one’s correcting them, because who could correct them?” she said. “Our teachers are enabling them. Molloy has never held themselves, their students or their faculty accountable.”
At Molloy’s freshman camp, before she’d even started school there, she said a student called her a terrorist and told her to go back to Baghdad. “This was the main comment that set the tone for me going into Molloy,” she said.
To her knowledge, he was never disciplined.
The alumna recalled one of her homeroom teachers told her and several other students that he thought Indian students would smell. That teacher no longer works at Molloy.
As another student put it, “One day he was just gone.”
The alumna noted that she’s grateful for the education she got at Molloy and wants to see the school make changes — a sentiment echoed by many of the students and alumni who spoke to Patch.
The alumna suggested that school administrators use their existing peer group system to foster conversations about diversity and race and to boost their support and funding for clubs like the Indian club, which she led during her time at Molloy, that provide a safe space for students from marginalized communities.
Boldeau recommended that the school form a diversity and inclusivity board made up of staff members, alumni and outside experts.
Students and alumni told Patch they decided to speak up because they hope to push school leaders to hold themselves and others accountable and work toward creating an environment where students of color feel heard and respected, not silenced and disparaged.
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