By Esme Laster
Photos by Jeremy Weine
“I’ve never felt connected to people in this school the way I do now,” said a student at Beacon High School, Gabriela Gomez about Monday’s momentous student-led sit-in. The sit-in, organized by a brand new student coalition, Beacon United Unions (BUU), called upon the administration to better advocate for minority students after recent events brought to light an unsettling reality.
Last week before Winter break, a conversation was overheard in the college office in which a student used hateful words to comment on students who had recently been accepted to schools through the QuestBridge program and Posse Foundation. Questbridge and Posse are non-profit organizations that allows high schoolers to achieve their desired college experience through affordable means.
This student’s divisive comments were soon relayed through word-of-mouth and social media to the larger student body. A sea of anger, hurt, and shame quickly washed upon seniors and freshman alike. “I felt so isolated,” said Gabriela about how the comments affected her. The emotional heat around this issue could be felt in every corner of Beacon in the days following the incident; students had urgent questions, opinions, and feelings, many of which were expressed through social media. Through instagram stories and posts, arguments and apologies emerged, but soon enough, so did a plan.
After a Black Student Union (BSU) meeting in which recent events were discussed, students began to organize. Members of BSU reached out to the leaderships of other Beacon student unions. It was soon decided that BSU would hold a meeting in room 506 open to all Beacon students interested in taking action against what was beginning to feel like an administrative crisis. Orchestrators of the highly anticipated meeting named their snapchat group chat “506.”
It was official.
Word of the meeting spread rapidly on social media and it quickly became clear to organizers that room 506 wouldn’t hold all who desired to come. The meeting was moved to the cafeteria where, that friday at 2:20, over one hundred students rushed to fill every last inch of open space. Attendees of friday’s assembly were eager to hear the voices behind the plan. To Gabriela, “It became clear how distraught and moved the student body was.” According to her, leaders of friday’s assembly left feeling “stressed, unmotivated, and uninspired.” Chaos reigned from students and a teacher both of whom offered conflicting ideas for next steps.
Later that night a new plan had formed along with a new form of student leadership. The Beacon United Unions took charge in informing student that those who were willing would participate in a sit-in that coming monday. In a clarifying Instagram post, “beacon united unions” wrote, “It is a sit-in, not a boycott. Please come to school by 8 AM on monday dressed in all black!”
As excitement and even apprehension amongst some built throughout the weekend, new members of BUU worked tirelessly to bring their plan to fruition. “It was a lot of 3 am type of nights,” Gabriela explained about the days leading up to the sit-in. During these days, members of the BUU collaborated to form a list of demands. The demands went as follows: that beacon issue an apology to students, staff and parents, that college counselors involved in the incident be investigated by the Department of Education, that past incidents of discriminatory behavior also be investigated, and that workshops on culturally responsive education and implicit biases be mandated for Beacon staff and students. The BUU’s demands also called for more long-term change, including a transformed hiring process that brings in more staff of color and that meetings between the administration and the BUU take place on a monthly basis to ensure continued support from the administration.
As students entered the building monday morning, leaders of BUU handed out colored rubber bands to students, indicating which floor to go to. Throughout the day, various student unions including African Student Association, Asian Student Union, Latinx Student Union, Jewish Student Association, Black Student Union, and Muslim Student Union circulated throughout the building from the cellar to the 6th floor. Each student union facilitated racial discussions with students or taught lessons of their choice with sit-in attendees. For example, Asian Student Union asked students to name as many Asian countries as they could within a specific time frame. This exercise along with other activities led by student unions were intended to incite conversations students often don’t have.
Half way through the day, a member of BUU made a final announcement: BUU’s demands had been met by the administration. In the weeks and months following the sit-in, the BUU is focused on ensuring that their demands are adequately met by college counselors and the administration.