Outraged students from Berkeley High School’s Academy of Medicine and Public Service (AMPS) released a statement June 8 denouncing an offensive comment written in the school yearbook that flagged students in the program as “future … trash collators” [sic].
The six students who signed the statement said the derogatory comment shows there is continued bias against the small schools in BHS, of which AMPS is one, and that racism and classism are “large factors that exist on Berkeley High’s campus.”
“This latest representation of AMPS in the yearbook illustrates that discrimination against small schools is alive and well,” said the statement. “The slanderous comment about AMPS students being referred to as ‘future trash collators’ or ‘collectors’ is extremely disrespectful to the staff and students and does not recognize their hard work and achievements.”
They wrote: “Many people do not understand why the AMPS community is so offended. We hear outsiders ask: ‘What’s wrong with being a trash collector? It’s an honest job.’ The occupation of trash collector is not offensive by itself, but using it in connection with AMPS was a malicious attempt to attack students who fight so hard to prove themselves. And this act is another reminder that no matter how much we achieve, we will still be reminded of the color of our skin and our place in the world. In all honesty, it is very saddening that we will spend our lives proving our worth, but it’s an even harder blow that we must prove ourselves in the institution that is supposed to protect us.”
The statement was signed by Jannya Solwazi, Ruby Franco and Aponi O’Keefe, all sophomores in AMPS, and Chansis Hall, Denia Parham and Kalliyah Dunn, all AMPS seniors.
On June 3, students were given yearbooks that contained a description of AMPS, one of BHS’s four small-learning communities, that flagged students in the program as “future … trash collators.” When the slur came to the attention of Kristin Glenchur, Berkeley High’s principal, she sent out an email to the BHS community requesting that students bring the yearbooks back to school so the offensive and racist comment could be removed.
The yearbook is put together annually by a staff of students overseen by faculty advisor Gabriel Berent. The original AMPS page had not included the offensive comment and an investigation by school officials determined that ” the original text of the page was maliciously replaced.” The culprits have not been identified, although the entire yearbook staff has accepted responsibility.
Student organizations such as Berkeley High’s Black Student Union and the Arts and Humanities Academy, another BHS small school, quickly took to Twitter to voice their outrage over the comment, with some individuals calling for a school walk-out.
— Ashmita Phnuyal (@AHA_usmeta) June 5, 2015
Post racial? Really? pic.twitter.com/yXMNorSIlP
— Black Student Union (@BerkeleyBSU) June 3, 2015
The statement was all the more offensive because of the history of AMPS, according to the signatories.
“To those who lack an understanding of the importance and severity of this yearbook situation, allow us to explain,” they wrote. “To begin, we would like to start with the history of how the name AMPS came to be. The original name of this academy was CPA, which stands for Community Partnership Academy. The academy was commonly referred to as Colored People Academy by some students due to the academy being 86% students of color. In response to the negative stereotype associated with the Academy’s acronym (‘Colored People Academy’), the BHS administration changed the academy’s name to Academy of Medicine and Public Service (AMPS). The name change was crucial because it is an appropriate representation of what the school focuses on, which is medicine and public service.”
Small-school programs nationwide have been criticized in the past for falling short of their goal of diversifying the student body and boosting the performance of at-risk students.
Berkeley High has been struggling with equality of opportunity for its small schools at least since 2012, when a report from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges criticized the school for its achievement gap and the disparity of opportunity between different races. The 2012 report said Berkeley had not created a culture of high expectations for academic achievement for all students.
A WASC committee that revisited the school in March 2015 noted that BHS had made strides in some areas, but still fell short of providing equal opportunity for all.
“Members of multiple stakeholder groups expressed concerns regarding the ethnic disproportionality and the low enrollment of African American and Latino students in the Berkeley International High School and Academic Choice Program,” noted the 2015 report, which is still in draft form.”The current system of enrollment appears to perpetuate the disproportionality among the three SLCs (small learning communities) and the two programs. The Visiting Committee found that the three SLCs and two programs do not have equal access to advanced courses ad African American studies.”
Monday’s statement alludes to the way schools such as AMPS at BHS have turned into racially isolated programs that may carry less prestige than other programs at the school.
The AMPS program, geared toward students interested in health, law, education, counseling or social services, according to its webpage, has overwhelmingly black and hispanic students. Data published by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges shows that AMPS students in 2014-15 were 40% black, 35% hispanic and 13% white.
By comparison, Berkeley High’s International Baccalaureate Program, considered by many to be the school’s most prestigious endeavor, was 14% black, 19% hispanic, and 45% white during the 2014-15 school year.
The same data revealed that there were 62.7% socio-economically disadvantaged students in AMPS, compared to 22.7% in the IB program.
According to their statement, 96% of AMPS students went on to college after the 2013-14 school year.
AMPS’ statement also touched on the reflection made by the Black Student Union last week, addressing the pattern of “failed communication between the administration and the students at Berkeley High School.”
Last fall, a BHS safety officer discovered a noose hanging on a tree on the BHS campus. Students were not informed of the incident until eight days after it had occurred, a fact that prompted an angry response from many student organizations and individuals on campus.
AMPS students confirmed in their statement that the small school will “take the initiative” to address issues of discrimination surrounding each of the small schools at Berkeley High.
“Although we are a small-learning community within Berkeley High school we should not have to prove ourselves any more than AC [Academic Choice, a large school] or BIHS [IB program] students,” they wrote.
Berkeleyside attempted to reach several of the statement’s authors but was unsuccessful.
Berkeley High recalls yearbook due to offensive comment (06.03.15)
Noose hanging from tree discovered at Berkeley High (10.10.14)
Emily Dugdale, a graduate of Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, is a summer intern at Berkeleyside.
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