Still reeling from a “vulgar” and viral Twitter hoax that cast their school in a racist light last week, Etobicoke’s Richview Collegiate Institute school community is determined to find out who is responsible for the offensive prank – and reclaim its reputation as a safe and nurturing school.
“For me, it’s depressing, but you can imagine for my kids – especially the impact on our black students – it’s got to be outrageous. I’ve talked to a lot of our students informally in the hallways, and they’ve been saying ‘it casts us all in a negative light.’ For the students, I feel awful,” Richview Principal Sam Miceli said of a racist prank letter circulated widely on Twitter last week.
“This was totally inappropriate and unauthorized. We are taking very serious steps to address it, and reveling in the fact that our community is a strong, self-supporting one and that we’ll soon put this behind us.”
First tweeted last Thursday, the photo of a prank letter written on Richview letterhead and instructing students and staff to “avoid eye contact with African American students” in the hallway, was retweeted by the online “hacktivist” group Anonymous and its 877,421 followers on Sunday.
The prank letter claimed such measures were to be taken as a safety precaution against an increase in student robberies, claiming that African American students “have a higher chance of becoming aggressive when confronted.”
“Due to their aggressiveness African American students will be made to pay an extra fee of $1.50 per purchase in the cafeteria,” the prank letter concludes.
Online outcry to the letter was instantaneous, with many Twitter users worldwide denouncing it as racist, and others closer to home expressing disbelief: “Getting chills watching my high school on the news for something like that,” tweeted user @thekounterpart. “Wow Richview #saddening”
Many others saw through the prank, but still decried it’s harmful impact.
Back at Richview, Miceli said school and board officials acted quickly on Friday to inform parents of the situation through email and telephone blasts.
The message to parents: “(The letter) is unauthorized. It’s not issued from Richview or the TDSB (Toronto District School Board),” said Miceli. “It’s vulgar, it’s offensive, it’s racist to the core, and we’re taking it very seriously. Board officials are investigating on an IT level and we at the school are investigating at a human level...When we found out who it is, they’ll be held to answer, that I can assure you.”
The letter itself, Miceli added, was an obvious forgery that contained a number of typos – including the spelling of Miceli’s name with a lower case ‘m’, and the misspelling of his principal title as ‘principle.’
While Miceli said he appreciates the media coverage to get word out to parents that both Richview and the TDSB are investigating that matter, he laments the exposure and attention given to the culprit as a result.
“I want the community to know that we’re aware and taking it seriously, but at the same time it bothers me that (the perpetrator) is probably rubbing their hands together thinking ‘look at all the attention we’re getting!’ That bugs me,” he said, noting that the feeling is mutual among his students.
“The letter bothered them. They’re angry and upset by it, but they also don’t want to give it oxygen or new life; they don’t want to dignify it with a response...The kids have their backs up; they’re offended by this. And to think that it might be one of their own is doubly disturbing to them.”