‘wokeathw’ responds to anti-racism initiatives (Print Edition)

‘wokeathw’ responds to anti-racism initiatives (Print Edition)

Photo Credit: Kyle Reims/Chronicle

*Note: A longer, more in depth version has been published here. This version is published as it appeared in the print edition of the second issue of The Chronicle. 

Certain members of the community, dissatisfied with the school’s new anti-racism and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives, created the Instagram account @wokeathw on Sept. 7 to highlight what they claim are pitfalls of allegedly biased and damaging curriculum changes. The anonymous owners of the account described the school’s anti-racism work as “a fashionable but destructive agenda.”

In an email exchange, the account’s founders said the “Woke at Harvard-Westlake Project” is run by many members of the community, including students, faculty and parents from a variety of backgrounds.

Though the account has received criticism from some students, the founders said their mission has garnered widespread support from those too fearful to speak up, drawing comparisons between the school’s implementation of its anti-racism policies and the totalitarianism of the Soviet Union.

“We’ve received encouragement from several members of the school, both faculty and admin, who are afraid they will lose their jobs if they do not pretend to be enthusiastic about HW’s new mission,” they said. “The situation is grimly analogous to the story about Stalin’s speeches; everyone is afraid to be the first person to stop clapping.”

The account was first active Sept. 7 and posted 11 testimonials before going silent for over two weeks. However, two news sites The Daily Wire and Red State, each ran articles discussing the account Sept. 21, though the creators said they knew nothing about them until their publication. Following these stories, the account’s comment sections were filled with support, some of which came from accounts lacking connection to the school who came to troll, according to the creators.

Ben Davidoff ’20, one of the account’s few followers from the school community, said he supports both the founder’s message and the fight for racial and social equality.

“I think to a certain extent, the measures that [the administration] put in place start to hit the academic integrity of [the school],” Davidoff said. “And they start to compromise certain things in favor of more representation, I guess, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but that’s the trade-off that they’re making. They’re giving some here and taking some there.”

President Rick Commons said the school remains open-minded and flexible to finding the best approach to its anti-racism work. However, he said he was discouraged that the account misrepresented and criticized the school anonymously, as that prevented the opportunity for growth.

“As important as the DEI and anti-racism work is, it’s also important for us to hear concerns and questions and different perspectives that are offered in good faith,” Commons said. “We’re going to find that, in this really difficult progress that we’re trying to make, that we don’t get it 100% right. And so we need to have the conversations with people who have questions and concerns and can offer those questions and concerns in good faith. I was disappointed in the wokeathw [account] because it didn’t seem to be contributing to the kind of good faith that enables the work to be done together.”

Some of the account’s posts were factually incorrect or misleading. One post claimed that the school has “refused to have any conservative speakers” despite the fact that the school hosted President Trump’s original Secretary of Labor nominee, Andrew Puzder, in 2018. Another post claims Associate Head of School Laura Ross endorsed the 1619 Project, when, in the video the account posted, she simply mentioned the year 1619 as the year that enslaved people were brought to America.

Two separate posts criticized Middle School Dean Jon Carroll for praising two female activists with a history of anti-Semitism. While factually accurate, the posts omit that Carroll apologized on two separate occasions. The creators confirmed they had seen these apologies, yet they did not take action to acknowledge such in the posts. 

Additionally, many of the posts are simply screenshots of emails or homework assignments without commentary or explanation of how they damage the curriculum in the way the account claims they do. One post shows a homework assignment tasking students with annotating specific words, and another shares the account’s problems with a class titled “Racism, Antiracism, and You” teaching students about historical racism. 

Some students said they took issue with a post that said “my teacher has a Black Lives Matter picture and a We Are On Native Land picture on our home page.” Emery Genga ’21 said she had multiple concerns about this post, specifically the implications that go along with it.

“They’re framing this like it’s a bad thing, which is just so ridiculous to me,” Genga said. “First of all, saying we’re on native land is like saying that the sky is blue. It’s just a fact. One common concern in a bunch of these posts is that teachers are bringing politics into the classroom. But these two things are not political.”

The creators said they posted this because they felt it was inappropriate for teachers to share “political slogans,” comparing the two statements to a Trump sign. Asked if they considered “Black Lives Matter” to be political, they called the question a “gotcha” question and did not respond to further requests for clarification.

The account also claims that the school rushed extensive changes without consulting the community. Commons denied these claims, saying the administration made an informed decision after meeting with members of multiple groups from the school such as the board of trustees, school leadership, students and parents.

Genga said she thinks the school is moving in the right direction by implementing these changes and is optimistic they can help make a difference.

“With everything going on in the world, I think it was super important for the school to implement this anti-racist education,” Genga said. “I think if more schools around the country were to implement this education into their curriculum, even in a small way, the world could be a lot better for future generations.

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