ORR students, families share stories of racism on Instagram

Jul 27, 2020

On the Instagram account @blackatorr, a godparent of a preschooler posted “My godchild is in preschool at Sippican [School] and she’s mixed [race]. They were doing portraits and she didn’t know what color to use, so she used brown. A teacher said to her ‘why did you color yourself brown? You have beautiful white skin.’” 

The Instagram account shares the stories and experiences of Black Old Rochester Regional students past and present.

Posts on the account describe incidents on the sports field, in English classes and in the actions and statements of teachers, guidance counselors, administrators and peers.

The new account has also led the school district to acknowledge the need for change. 

Started on July 8, the @blackatorr account uses the same format as the anonymous Instagrams from private and public schools and some colleges.

The format allows Black students to talk about everything from racist incidents to subtler microaggressions, or small offensive incidents. ORR examples include:

“In fourth grade I was constantly called Barack Obama and Black Mamba. I’m a girl” and a post describing an incident where the poster’s brother was slapped and called the n-word for sitting in another student’s seat. 

Other posts recount comments from teachers, including a teacher who told students to “pretend we were all Black enslaved people” and he was “the nice white guy helping us escape,” and another who commented that he would have to wear a bulletproof vest to a Wareham basketball game because of all the Black people there. 

Multiple posts singled out English classes for making students say the n-word in readings rather than omitting it. 

“My guidance counselor constantly tried talking me out of taking difficult classes, taking APs. Before I even started classes she expected me to fail,” one student wrote. 

Some of the submissions say that administrators did not take opportunities to diversify the staff, or provide students with workshops that did not address racism.

They also extend beyond the classroom. As one athlete writes: 

“I would get called the n-word or other derogatory names while playing on multiple ORR sports teams during games by opponents. My teammates and coaches never stood up for me when it would happen, so I just stopped bringing it up.” 

One person who submitted told their mom’s story of a trip to a prison that was only offered to minority students in the 80s. 

The account’s anonymous moderator declined to be interviewed. 

District has wrestled with allegations of racism since February 2019, when an ORR hockey player called a Black Wareham player the n-word during a game. This prompted Black students at ORR to speak out about their experience and stand in solidarity with the Wareham athlete. 

This year, as the nation protested the death of George Floyd, a Black Minnesota man killed by the police in May 2020, two anti-racist groups formed in the Tri-Town: Tri-Town Against Racism and Tri-Town Stands Together. There were Black Lives Matter marches in all three towns, and parents and community member re-initiated dialogue with the school district on how to better address the issue. 

The school district said at a June meeting on the topic that it had started to work on the issue by training staff members, but it would continue with additional curriculum reform and by working with community members. 

The Old Rochester Regional School also addressed the content on the account. 

“The stories shared on @blackatorr and other social media accounts have been painful to read and the experiences reflect the sincere and immediate need to address racial and social justice. Our pledge to our students and families is that we will continue to work with you, our faculty, and school committee members to create schools and learning environments that are fully inclusive of all,” the District’s Superintendent Michael Nelson wrote. 

Nelson said that the school continued discussion on the issue of racism at a Special Joint School Committee Meeting on June 15. 

“Moving forward, we will foster and facilitate change by examining policy needs, continuing relevant professional development with our faculty, increasing learning opportunities for our students, and reviewing and developing our curriculum to prepare our students to be global citizens,” Nelson said in the statement.