SOUTH BEND, Ind. – A mixed-race student who posted segregation signs around his high school claims the messages were designed to highlight racism on campus.
Riley High School junior Shane Williams created a controversy when he posted “whites only” and “colored only” signs above water fountains in a school hallway Thursday, and is now serving a five-day suspension for his actions.
“I found it kind of disturbing,” student Brandan Parmley told Fox 28, “this is 2016, not 1960s.”
Black student Demetris Gardner said he was nervous because it appeared those responsible “were trying to be racist.”
“It makes our school look like we’re racist when we’re honestly far from that,” student Adriana Jones said.
But Williams – who is of mixed race – strongly disagrees, and points to the all black school administration as evidence.
“Within my school I can hear remarks and see actions on a daily basis, but I think if you guys are going to do these things, you’re going to be racist, why do it under the table, why not blatantly put it on the walls,” he told WNDU.
Williams claims racism at Riley runs both ways.
“Just as much as black Americans don’t want an all-white corporate America, there shouldn’t be an all-black (school) leadership,” he told Fox 28.
Williams was one of three students involved with hanging the signs at Riley, and he knew there’d likely be consequences for taking a controversial stand. Aside from his suspension, school officials told the student he may be expelled, Williams said.
“I’m being punished for trying to make a social change,” he told Fox 28.
South Bend superintendent Carole Schmidt issued a statement condemning the racist signs Thursday.
“I was extremely disappointed to learn of the actions of these students today,” Schmidt wrote. “There is no place for these kinds of actions in our schools or in our community.”
Riley principal Francois Bayingana agrees. Bayingana said she views the incident as a “teachable moment” – not about racism, but about the proper school protocols for posting signs.
“This is a real teachable moment for students,” Bayingana told Fox 28. “If you want to make a point, there’s always a protocol to follow.”
Williams seems to think school officials are missing the point of the signs entirely.
“If anything, I did that school a favor,” he said. “For the school system to try to cover it up and pretend it didn’t happen, we have deeper issues within our schools, I just want to bring it to light.”
School officials told Fox 28 the incident prompted them to hold an open discussion with students Friday.