Students at a Brooklyn Heights private school who have accused classmates of being bigoted are meeting with administrators to find ways to change the culture at the institution, where high school tuition exceeds $47,000 a year.
St. Ann’s High School headmaster Vince Tompkins is meeting with seniors at lunch on Fridays and holding other events after critics claimed the arts-focused school has a history of racism and students complained it has not addressed racist and anti-Semitic online posts by other students.
Citing an Instagram account called Deport Them ASAP, some students said bigotry is a longstanding problem at St. Ann’s.
In March, the school completed a year-long probe into allegations of inappropriate behavior over decades by employees toward students. The investigation found that witnesses identified 19 former staffers who had possibly engaged in sexual misconduct or inappropriate acts with students. School officials did not name the staffers because the evidence against them was not totally conclusive.
St. Ann’s sent a letter to parents, employees and alumni, which it posted on its website, regarding the findings of the investigation.
St. Ann’s administrators said the meetings between Tompkins and students are not related to Deport Them ASAP, which started as a private account and closed in January 2017.
Allegedly operated by a group of five white, male students from August 2016 to January 2017, Deport Them ASAP had posts containing racist, sexist and bigoted images, including a cartoon of a Jewish student with a knife through his head and the caption “I love my Rabbi.”
In a letter sent to St. Ann’s families about Deport Them ASAP on Jan 13, 2017, Tompkins said the students would be suspended for the remainder of the academic year.
“These students are not the only ones who have work to do in the months ahead,” Tompkins wrote in the letter.
“The promise of our school depends on every individual’s willingness to be courageous, to show that we will not tolerate that which is intolerable, including any of the casual callousness we often accept or feel powerless to object to,” he added. “If education is to be a celebration of life, the courage to speak out against such behavior is imperative."
But some students complained that a culture of hostility continued at St. Ann’s High School, where roughly 25% of students are people of color.
A group of students raised their concerns over those issues with school administrators at meetings in March. Tompkins began lunchtime events with students to discuss issues related to diversity and campus culture, among other things.
Teens at the elite school, where bold-face alums include Lena Dunham and Jennifer Connelly, said they’re glad for the changes that are afoot.
“Since it’s not a very diverse school, I’d say it’s definitely centered around white students,” said an 18-year-old senior who identifies as black, white and Native American.
The student, who requested anonymity, expressed appreciation for the Friday meetings to address racial issues, saying. “We have some speakers come and we talk about diversity. It’s a start.”
Another student, who also asked not to be identified, said St. Ann’s in January created affinity groups within which students of different races can share their experiences.
“It’s something a lot of St. Ann’s students have asked for over the years,” said the 17-year-old student, who is in a white affinity group. “The conversations are very different.”