As a white student, Erin Batty has never been the target of racial injustice at her school, but she’s heard enough stories and seen enough discrimination herself to know it’s a real issue. Inspired by local protests and fellow Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) students and alumni, Batty, a rising senior at William Amos Hough High School in Cornelius, created an Instagram account with the handle CMS4RacialJustice. The account invites CMS students to anonymously submit their experiences of discrimination at school. It has gained more than 1,800 followers since June 13.
“I really wanted to give students of color and other minority students a platform to share their stories and feel heard because a lot of times instances go swept under the rug,” Batty said. “There’s power in numbers and in all of these stories. I wanted it to be a space where people could share and people could learn without feeling attacked or feeling like fingers were being pointed.”
Batty said more than 260 students submitted stories through the Google form linked to the account and many others have messaged her on Instagram directly. She said submissions have come from students of all ages wanting their voices heard about incidents that have occurred in schools all across the county.
We all know when a high-profile incident happens, such as what occurred at Ardrey Kell recently, but posts on the CMS4RacialJustice account tell more subtle stories of bad experiences with classmates, teachers, school resource officers and administrative staff members.
“In 11th grade, our history teacher didn’t have a problem saying the N-word because it was ‘in the book,’ even though me and a handful of other Black students suggested he didn’t,” one post reads. Another tells of a teacher with a known history for making racist jokes against Asians, stating that the teacher is still employed and has continued the behavior after being supposedly disciplined for it by administration.
The anonymous nature of each post makes it difficult to fact-check each allegation or hold the people in them accountable. Names or locations are not used in the posts. Batty says her goal is not to target specific people or schools, but rather to provide insight and context into behavior that makes students feel uncomfortable or unsafe.
“I really hope people can take this as a chance to empathize,” Batty said. “If they’re a teacher or administrator and come across the account, they look inside and ask themselves if this is something they’ve been contributing to. I hope it helps them see general, broad, societal problems that they can be more open to hearing and receiving.”
So far, the response to CMS4RacialJustice has been positive, Batty said. Students have reached out thanking her for creating the account and providing a necessary platform, while teachers have encouraged students to engage with the difficult conversations through virtual town halls like one hosted by West Mecklenburg High School on June 4.
A statement from CMS encouraged students to report all discriminatory behavior to their respective school’s administration.
“The district always encourages any student who has a concern about any matter to bring their concern to the attention of their school leadership,” officials wrote. “We would invite the student to reach out to the principal at their school to begin conversations on the process to voice/express concerns and receive information on next steps.”
Batty said she hopes to work with CMS to create systemic change that goes beyond reacting to specific incidents after the fact. She and fellow students hope to see changes in various forms; the first is cutting ties with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.
A recent CMS4RacialJustice post provides a series of quotes pulled from multiple submissions, all of which reference police presence in schools, stating things such as, “It is obvious that cops do not know how to deal with kids that are still growing mentally. We need help, not to be carried out in cuffs.”
Batty created an online petition to remove school resource officers from CMS that has already received more than 700 signatures so far.
Batty and others also see the need for an increased African-American studies curriculum. She said it became clear in comments under CMS social media posts during the recent Juneteenth weekend that many students were learning about the holiday for the first time.
Batty also hopes to see more mental health resources provided in schools, including social workers, counselors and culturally-specific support services. They would like to see an increase in diversity training for students and staff that goes beyond the general conversations around bullying.
“There’s not really anything addressed to students,” Batty said of her own experience with anti-bullying education. “It’s just kind of broadly saying that bullying is wrong, but not going into the racial discrimination aspect, which would be important to be talked about and give students a platform.”
Batty said she would like to work with CMS to create platforms that build on the Instagram account, in which students could submit their experiences to school leaders in a way that makes them feel safe and allows leaders to address those issues.
Meanwhile, other Instagram accounts have launched in south Charlotte and Union County that play a similar role to CMS4RacialJustice. Accounts such as @blackatcharlottechristian, @blackatcountryday and @blackatweddington give Black students a platform to tell what they’ve experienced without fear of retribution.
Despite the growing awareness around these issues, Batty said she recognizes that there is a long way to go. However, she is optimistic. She believes local youth have the power to make change by “keeping their foot on the gas,” continuing to build on the momentum of the movement that inspired action in the first place.
“It definitely has been a group and a community motivated by protests against police brutality and for Black Lives Matter that has really inspired me to create this account,” Batty said. “So many young people are getting involved, showing that they want to have a voice and they want to create change.”