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Pre-2008 Posts

High School Denies Diploma to Four Black, One Hispanic Grad Because Families Cheered Too Loud

Graduate Caisha Gayles

Caisha Gayles, above, graduated with honors but was deprived of her diploma as she walked across the stage because her supporters cheered too loudly.  She was waiting to graduate in this photo.

Galesburg High School in Galesburg, Illinois last month required graduating students and parents to sign a contract promising to act in a “dignified way” at commencement and not to make too much noise, under penalty of graduates being denied their diplomas and barred from the graduation party.  Evidently past commencement exercises have become too rowdy and parents have complained that they couldn’t hear their kids’ names read.

At graduation exercises this year the families of five students were collared by administrators monitoring the graduation for cheering too loudly.  Four of the families were black, one was Hispanic.  “Race had absolutely nothing to do with it,” said the Principal, Tom Chiles.  RIGHT.  The parents say white families also cheered for their students and not a one was penalized for it.

The students have all technically graduated, but they can’t get their diplomas unless they do eight hours of public service work.

As one of the penalized students asked, how can she help it if people cheer for her?  Somebody could cheer for her just to get her in trouble!  Even if the students and parents signed the contract, all of the family members and friends who showed up did not. 

Everything about this situation stinks to high heaven– that the students were all black or Hispanic and the doltish Principal says it wasn’t racism.  That parents and family members are punished for their understandable happiness over their children graduating.  That it doesn’t seem to occur to anyone that families of color have MORE REASON TO CHEER because their students have had FAR MORE OBSTACLES TO OVERCOME to successfully graduate than the students of white families.   That there were probably more family members present to witness the graduations of the students of color than were present to witness the graduations of white students.   One reason students of color succeed, when they succeed, is, they have a lot of family and community support which serves to offset the destructiveness of the racism they experience.

I sincerely hope some administrative heads roll over this, but I doubt they will and that is just wrong.




16 thoughts on “High School Denies Diploma to Four Black, One Hispanic Grad Because Families Cheered Too Loud

  1. yikes. that stinks pretty bad. graduation should be a celebration, not an exercise in institutional racism.

    Posted by Kyle | June 2, 2007, 8:48 pm
  2. What? . . . .. . . just. . .WHAT?? WTF!?? This world just gets stupider and crazier by the minute! If rowdy cheering people really were a problem for the graduation it seems logical to me that if they get to the point where they’re really bothering people, then they should just be escorted away, or something, and that’s the only punishment that should happen. The whole thing is ridiculous. Eight hours of public service? Being punished for achieving?? BLAHG. . ..

    Posted by Chloe | June 2, 2007, 9:16 pm
  3. At least they technically graduated, so the diploma isn’t a necessity for college or work. Hopefully, the students will tell the administration to go fuck themselves as regards community service. (I object to mandatory community service as a graduation requirement, but that’s a whole other rant).

    Posted by Miranda | June 2, 2007, 10:24 pm
  4. I agree that it’s totally wrong to penalize the graduating students for the behavior of their families and friends. And it would still be wrong even if the families actually HAD done something bad. (Before I saw this blog post, I’d never heard of a school trying to penalize people–and so harshly–just for cheering at graduation. I agree with most of the above comments about it, except maybe for Miranda’s very last paranthetical sentence–but as she says, that’s a whole other [topic].)

    To play devil’s advocate for a moment, though: does anyone think there might be, in part, a cultural explanation? I don’t know if the penalized families actually did cheer any more loudly than other parents (it sounds like at least some people present think that they didn’t, in which case the accusations of racism would make sense here. The school denies racist bias, but there IS such a thing as a subconscious: they could have been judging the cheering through a racially biased prism without intending to. Which still wouldn’t excuse it, that’s just a speculated possible explanation. And explanations aren’t the same as excuses.)

    But IF the families did cheer more loudly than the others (I wasn’t there, I certainly cannot judge): I know that in some Black/African American churches (I don’t know about Latino churches), there is more of a tradition than you see in most Caucasin churches where people respond back when the minister preaches and generally are louder–because that’s just part of how they celebrate and honor their religion. Is there a possibility that some Black families could have been louder (IF they were, in fact, louder) in part because they were used to talking back more in church? Or am I off base here?

    I should indicate that as a Caucasin person who grew up in a mostly Caucasin town, there’s still a lot I don’t know yet about African American (or Caribbean American) or Latino American cultures, though I try to learn when I can.

    I agree that many Black and Latino families often have more REASON to celebrate, and celebrate loud, when one of “their own” succeeds. (Ditto for impoverished families, Native American families, etc etc, though they aren’t under discussion here).

    If any of my questions here come off as racist, then it’s not meant to — but do still please tell me if it bugs you. I tried to couch this in the spirit of trying to improve my cross-cultural understanding (because that’s my honest intent), but I don’t know if I succeeded.

    Posted by andreashettle | June 3, 2007, 1:26 am
  5. I am trying not to vomit right now. Ugh.

    Posted by Beppie | June 3, 2007, 1:49 am
  6. I never heard of such a thing before!

    Posted by Branjor | June 3, 2007, 2:00 am
  7. This is outrageous!

    (Andreashettle – it doesn’t matter if they did cheer louder, it is still outrageous. How was it measured … does each person get a certain number of decibels or what? At my school some white, but more Black students have their *entire* families come to graduation, I mean 20-25 people. A large group like that will be louder than just 2 parents. And then if it is someone who was well known on campus, there will be people other than their families cheering. So it becomes pointless to split hairs. The thing is that if *everyone* you call on something is POC, it *is* likely you’re biased or the rule is.)

    Posted by profacero | June 3, 2007, 5:44 am
  8. To profacero: I agree it’s still outrageous regardless of whether they did cheer louder. (I tried to make that clear in my first paragraph and throughout but I guess I wasn’t clear enough, sorry.) I wasn’t trying to look for excuses for the school’s behavior. I was simply seeking to understand whether there might be perfectly good (cultural) reasons why Black families or Latino families might actually cheer louder (if they did) just for my own general understanding, and NOT to justify the rule or the school’s application of it. A difference in family size does make sense here, and would also probably apply to Latino families since Latinos tend to put high value on family networks. I saw a bit of that when I was in Costa Rica some years ago.

    And I also agree with your last line. I suppose there COULD be such a thing as one big, unfortunate-looking coincidence (NOT saying that this is one … or that it isn’t). But I agree that when everyone caught by a rule belongs to a group that has historically been discriminated against then you ought to at least be looking at the possibility of bias, inadvertent or otherwise. And even if you (generic you, not literal you) really think there wasn’t bias you should be reconsidering the rule anyway.

    Thanks for helping me understand a little better.

    Posted by andreashettle | June 3, 2007, 10:09 am
  9. What a cruel thing to do. It seems that there are certain people who become teachers because they are sadists and enjoy having children in their power. Imagine stealing a child’s day like that, the day they are given to be proud of and celebrate their achievements and all the work they’ve put in over the years. Now they’ll be left with bitter memories of their school’s cruelty and racism.

    Posted by delphyne | June 3, 2007, 1:37 pm
  10. Everything about this situation was poorly planned and stupidly executed. Punishing the students for the actions of others. How logical.

    Posted by gingermiss | June 3, 2007, 3:41 pm
  11. gingermiss, ever had “heads down” in class because one student was noisy? Or everyone misses recess because one student didn’t do their homework? This kind of thinking is endemic. I have no idea what positive behavioral results it nets you…

    Chloe is so right, why not just remove the people who are noisy if it is such a problem?

    The whole “more reason to cheer thing” rubs me kind of the wrong way though. Really? In every case? I get that racism provides an additional barrier to push through (many, in fact), but there are always students who have a number of obstacles to overcome outside of racism, and that language steps over the significance of their achievements as well. In other words, graduating is a big deal for everyone, everyone has reason to cheer.

    Reading that the families had to sign contracts about their behavior made me more than a little sick.

    But what really struck me about your post was the effect this has on the larger community. Community and family support do play a role in offsetting the psychological effects of institutionalized racism, and this is absolutely a direct attack on that support. The fact that the white families who cheered were let alone is a dead giveaway.

    I wonder how this will all play out next year, same school?

    Posted by fitnessfortheoccasion | June 4, 2007, 1:15 am
  12. Yuck.

    So, the State Board of Education does not support the district’s actions. And it was all videotaped – the videographer said cheers were less than 4 seconds and did not ovelap with the next student’s name being called. As of Friday administrators said an anonymous telephone apology will suffice, but families aren’t falling for it and there will be another meeting Tuesday. This quote from the article mentions what behavior was banned:

    “The contract banned “inappropriate or disruptive behavior” by parents and students during the May 27 graduation ceremony, including screaming, howling, hooting, dancing, nontraditional handshaking and others.”

    Nontraditional handshaking?

    Other articles mentioned that the students were also banned from a class post-graduation party.

    Finally, in 2005, Galesburg High School was 79.4% White, 5.1% Hispanic and 14.1% Black.

    Posted by manxome | June 4, 2007, 2:36 am
  13. Thanks for that information, manxome– very disturbing and sobering.
    fitnessfortheoccasion, it’s true, there are a million and one challenges students of all races must overcome to be successful in school, but being a student of color adds the challenge of racism to all of the other possibilities.
    One reason this story struck such a chord with me is, my number six child, Tiffany, got her bachelor’s of science last week from PLU, a private college in the Pacific Northwest. She worked her ass off and had many, many MANY struggles over the years, some due to the fact that she was a woman of color at an overwhelmingly white college. I doubt the number of students of color at PLU is more than 10 percent total, and of that number, a minuscule number is African American or black/white/biracial, which my daughter is, black dad, white mom (me). It costs something like $35,000 a year to go to PLU, and I am the sole support of my large family– no WAY could I have sent her to this school or any school. She went courtesy of academic scholarships she worked her ass off to earn, grants, student loans, and work-study. She held a job all the way through the four years and graduated with honors.
    Anyway, we, her family and friends, were THRILLED when she graduated. This was SUCH a mountaintop experience for us, because it represented such tremendous, tremendous hard work on Tiff’s part. Commencement was held at the Tacoma Dome and more than 6,000 people were there. When my daughter crossed the stage as they read her name, you BET, we were all hooting, hollering, whistling, shouting, calling out her name, and carrying on, and there were a bunch of us– I have a large family, grandkids, etc. There was a black family sitting in front of us, and when their student crossed the stage, same thing, hooting, hollering, stomping, yelling, all very positive and upbeat. When my daughter had been handed her degree she did a funny little dance acknowledging our shouting. But plenty of white people hooted and hollered as well. But you know, I think the hooting and hollering *was* more for the students of color, because of the sheer numbers of their supporters. I’m recalling a Vietnamese student whose family really hooped it up as well.
    If this had been Galesburg high school instead of PLU, my daughter probably would not have gotten her diploma! Because we, her family, were too thrilled and showed it! And neither the student of the people in front of us because they were too thrilled. It is a HUGE accomplishment for a student of color who doesn’t come from money, which my kids do not, to graduate with honors from an expensive private college! And heck yeah, people watching are going to bask in that brief moment of joy and victory because life holds precious few moments like that, and it is, in fact, those moments which make life worth living and sustain us when things are hard, as things, in general, are!
    Anyway, this story just flabbergasts me. It is sick and so so so discouraging.

    Posted by womensspace | June 4, 2007, 6:32 am
  14. A very excellent point Heart.
    And huge congrats to Tiff. Graduating with honors is difficult enough as it is without everything else heaped on!

    Posted by fitnessfortheoccasion | June 4, 2007, 7:11 am
  15. It is sad to see how old school authorities could crucify innocent students for mistakes that apparently others did. If the problem is lack of loud speakers, better get others. I wish the school could be prosecuted under racism, discrimination, and negligence on this case because with that action they can destroy the dreams of 4 students to be better professionals. The mission of Education is to help students to love to study and because of that bad action from the school authorities, that is in danger for the students. I believe psychological damages have been done against those kids. I am sure, the school must be investigated and if the charges I mentioned are true… to be prosecuted, penalized and the students compensated.


    Posted by Jose | June 6, 2007, 10:13 pm
  16. gingermiss, ever had “heads down” in class because one student was noisy? Or everyone misses recess because one student didn’t do their homework? This kind of thinking is endemic. I have no idea what positive behavioral results it nets you…

    Definitely, and I remember thinking that it was monumentally stupid then too. I don’t think these punishments are ever intended to inspire positive long-term behavioral changes. From the get-go, they’re meant to inspire submission through peer pressure and social ostracism.

    The whole concept reminds me of the scene in Full Metal Jacket where Pvt. Pyle is beaten with bars of soap by the other men in his unit for continuously getting them in trouble. Very military. I’ve never even seen the whole movie because that scene made me sick.

    Posted by gingermiss | June 7, 2007, 3:22 am

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