Maya Peterson of Lawrenceville School was forced to step down as the first female black and Latina student president after some pictures of her mocking ‘typical white classmates’ emerged online.
Lawrenceville is the most expensive prep school in the United States. It is located in New Jersey and one year's tuition costs about $35,000. It has some pretty successful alumni, too, including CEOs Michael Eisner and Lewis Bernard, many senators and the founder of Forbes.
Peterson, who just graduated in June, took several photos of herself mocking, in her view, typical white, male students. In the photos (see above) she is seen wearing L.L. Bean duck boots, a Yale University sweatshirt and holding a hockey stick. She claims this is representative of an average white male student at Lawrenceville. She added the hashtags '#romney2016,' '#confederate,' and '#peakedinhighschool’ to the picture, which she posted on her Instagram profile.
Several students (mainly the white dudes she was talking about) did not respond well to photographs. They went as far as calling them racist, with one student saying, “You’re the student body president, and you’re mocking and blatantly insulting a large group of the school’s male population.”
To this, Peterson says the following: “Yes, I am making a mockery of the right-wing, confederate-flag hanging, openly misogynistic Lawrentians. If that’s a large portion of the school’s male population, then I think the issue is not with my bringing attention to it in a lighthearted way, but rather why no one has brought attention to it before…”
It’s intruiging to see what white people call “racist" when it refers to a non-minority group. Clearly, some of these kids have overlooked certain historical events, and ignored their sociology textbooks as well. But one lesson that all people should know is that a racial minority “mocking” a white person isn’t necessarily harming them in a substantive or systemic way, as opposed to if the roles were reversed.
“I understand why I hurt people’s feelings,” says Peterson. “But I didn’t become president to make sure rich white guys had more representation on campus,” she said. “Let’s be honest. They’re not the ones that feel uncomfortable here.”
Black students on campus were interviewed by Katie J.M. Baker from BuzzFeed, stating that “they were tired of answering dumb questions... about their hair or whether they were on financial aid.”
Peterson was also at the center of a Facebook controversy at the time of President Obama's reelection in 2012. She posted the following status: “As a black and Latino, gay woman in the United States of America, today is a momentous day,” she wrote. “I’m sorry to all the rich white men who have failed to elect a president that endorses their greed.”
Many students also called this post racist. They responded with comments like, “I’m gonna have to assume from your political beliefs and what you’ve said that you do not pay for your Lawrenceville tuition in its entirety,” one student wrote. “But do you know who pays for that? Yeah, that would be all those greedy white men who actually worked for their fortune, not relied on the government to support them. Just saying.”
So much for inclusion, huh, guys?
The administration got a hold of the pictures and comments by Peterson after someone sent them in anonymously. She was soon forced to step down as student president.
Many students didn’t feel that this was the right decision. Peterson, “ran on a platform of ‘inclusion and acceptance and pride in oneself’.” As an African-American woman who is also a lesbian, she reached out to students whom other candidates ignored; students like freshman and minorities.
Additionally, a 2014 graduate named Chris says that Peterson won the presidential race because “she really cares about people and their best interests.” To Chris, a transgender student, Peterson “came off as somebody who would advocate for us.”
I am deeply saddened by the way that Peterson was treated, and how minorities are continually taken less seriously in these types of situations. It is time that we all embrace the policies she was fighting for, especially her desire for a "diversity representative" on campus.
Read more on Buzzfeed's extensive coverage of the story.
What do you think of Peterson's photos and remarks? Tell us in the comments below!
Photos via Maya Peterson's Instagram and Flickr.com.