IWA planning sensitivity training

Published 12:46 pm Wednesday, March 30, 2016

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

After a student video featuring blackface made headlines, Isle of Wight Academy officials plan to look into sensitivity training for the school’s teachers and students.

Academy Headmaster Benjamin Vaughan said he will meet with Isle of Wight NAACP Chapter President Valerie Butler next week about bringing in organizations versed in addressing racial prejudices, diversity and discrimination.

Butler said she’s talked with Vaughan and has recommended training as a solution to what appears to be a gap in the school’s curriculum. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

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“It won’t overcome all racial discrimination and prejudice, but talking about it really helps,” said Butler, who sits on the board of the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities — a group that conducts training on the issue. 

Vaughan said the school will have to reflect on possible curriculum gaps and decide if changes need to be made.

The video, which was part of a government class assignment on landmark Supreme Court cases, featured a senior Academy student portraying Dollree Mapp, a black woman in the suit, Mapp vs. Ohio. In the video, the student was in blackface and portrayed Mapp in a negative stereotype of black women.

The case, which was about fourth amendment rights, had nothing to do with race — Mapp just happened to be black, Butler said.

Butler called the portrayal “reprehensible” in a letter to the editor.

Butler said much of this comes from ignorance because people do not know the history of these issues.

Vaughan believes the students made the video “in all innocence,” but qualified that assessment with the fact that they probably need training in racial sensitivity.

It was an insensitive portrayal of a black person, but the students who made it didn’t do it with racist intentions, he said.

Vaughan said the Academy today has more minorities than it has ever had, and estimates that about 6-7 percent of the student body is minority.

Vaughan believes the school is comfortable with minorities and those students are treated fairly and in a welcoming way.

“I certainly believe that’s the truth,” he said.

Shortly after the video went viral on social media, one of the students posted an apology online and said she did not know what blackface was.

The use of “blackface” is considered offensive. It was a form of theater makeup used by whites in the 19th century to portray an image of happy black people on the plantation.

One parent, who asked to speak anonymously, said the issue has caused some division between students who believe the video was offensive and those who don’t think it was a big deal.

Vaughan said the video, and the resulting backlash against the school, has led to a good deal of discussion.

When one is dealing with young people, one must realize they are not perfect and they’ll make mistakes. You have to accept that, learn from it and make amends, he said.

“It’s been a learning lesson for all of us,” he said.

Isle of Wight Academy was founded in 1967 and was considered a segregation academy — one of many formed in Virginia following Massive Resistance and Freedom of Choice, which was limited desegregation of schools. During Massive Resistance, some Virginia communities closed their public schools to avoid new state laws against segregation. Isle of Wight County, however, did not do that. Freedom of Choice was dismantled in 1968 by the Supreme Court decision, Green vs. New Kent County.

Butler was a member of one of the first classes to graduate in a fully integrated Smithfield High School in 1971, and still keeps in touch with many white classmates. The blackface video upset Butler, who has worked to open up communication about race relations in the county.

“There’s no place in the world for that tolerance (of prejudice and discrimination) anymore,” she said.  {/mprestriction}