Lawrenceville School Student Body President Maya Peterson has a sense of humor, so one day last March she donned a Yale sweater, L.L. Bean boots and a hockey stick and posted a picture on Instgram mocking her wealthy white male Republican classmates.
Peterson made the gesture after she and 10 black friends were ridiculed for posing for a senior picture with their fists raised in a Black Power salute. For her own mock photo she added the hashtags #Romney2016 and #peakedinhighschool.
But when the image went viral, the rest of Lawrenceville’s student body wasn’t laughing. “You’re the student body president, and you’re mocking and blatantly insulting a large group of the school’s male population,” one student commented on the photo.
“Yes, I am making a mockery of the right-wing, confederate-flag hanging, openly misogynistic Lawrentians,” Peterson responded. “If that’s a large portion of the school’s male population, then I think the issue is not with my bringing attention to it in a lighthearted way, but rather why no one has brought attention to it before…”
Three weeks later, according to Buzzfeed, Lawrenceville’s administration stepped in and demanded that Peterson resign from her post as student body president. It’s worth noting that Lawrenceville is among the country’s most expensive boarding schools and Peterson is an out lesbian who says she’s faced discrimination at the school.
Overall, her experience speaks to the racial tensions that exist at some of the nation’s elite prep schools.
Buzzfeed’s Kate J.M. Baker has more:
Students at prestigious boarding schools have long been more resistant to integration than their administrations. In an 1883 account called “Familiar Sketches of the Phillips Exeter Academy and Surroundings,” Frank H. Cunningham wrote of four indignant white students who told the principal they would leave if he allowed a black student to enroll at the school. “ ‘The colored student will stay, you can do as you please,” the principal allegedly said.
“During the troubles of the rebellion, a worthy colored student was a member of the Academy,” Cunningham wrote. “Exeter knew no color line.”
In more modern times, the difficulties of being a minority student at a prestigious private school have been documented in films like The Prep School Negro, and novels like Black Boy White School and The Fall of Rome. “The majority tends to have one perspective, and you feel on the other side all the time,” Prep School Negro director Andre Robert Lee toldThe Patriot-News.
Peterson ultimately graduated, but news of the incident has sparked renewed conversation about how to create truly multiracial enviornments in the privileged spaces of mostly white elite prep schools. The saga reminds of my colleague Carla Murphy’s essay on her experiences at New York City’s Dalton School. “Why would a black parent expect care and love for their whole child from a historically white, elite institution? Why not?”