While most high school students in the country are stressed about final exams, Christmas shopping, or just looking forward to the holidays, that isn’t the case for the teenagers at South Philadelphia High School.
The increasing friction between black and Asian students at SPHS culminated in a chain of physical attacks, two off-campus fights, and a lunchroom brawl last week, which resulted in seven Asian students receiving minor injuries and ten students suspended. On Friday, Dec. 4, more than a dozen Asian students decided to skip school for the day and attend a news conference instead, in order to share their side of the story with the public. Yesterday, about 50 students boycotted again, skipping classes for the second day.
Located in the heart of a low-income neighborhood in the southern part of Philadelphia, SPHS is about 70 percent black and 18 percent Asian, many of them immigrants with accented English. The main causes of the failed racial relations, sources say, are deep-seated cultural differences and the fact that Asian students tend to stay in their own groups instead of interacting with others.
While there’s been criticism that the school isn’t doing enough to resolve the conflicts, today the school’s superintendent Arlene Ackerman will be making her first public statement about the incidents and racial tensions. The school’s also taking steps to create a diversity committee, and district officials say they will add officers around the school.
Despite America’s efforts to reduce racism in recent years, there’s no denying that problems still exist. Think of Jena High School in Louisiana, for example, where chaos erupted when a group of black students attempted to sit where whites usually gathered. Perhaps you know about the murder of Vincent Chin, who was beaten to death in 1982 by an unemployed Chrysler plant superintendent that blamed the successful Japanese automakers for taking jobs. (Note: Chin was Chinese, not Japanese, which makes the crime even more abominable.)
It’s quite disturbing that incidents like these are still happening and worse of all, that students have been afraid to speak out about the incidents, and have to boycott school because their safety is compromised. Hopefully the school administration and district will quickly find a way to protect their student’s safety and alleviate the racial tensions in their community.
Last modified: December 9, 2009