By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer
Drake Ramos walked past a group of fellow West Campus students as they gathered in front of the school’s maroon-colored double doors after walking out in protest of racist incidents they say are common there.
Ramos, a ninth-grader, was wearing a white T-shirt with the words “I Am White” written across the chest in blue ballpoint pen. Another Black student wore a similar shirt with “I Am Legally Blonde” written on it and another wrote “I Feel Comfortable At School” on a sheet of paper and taped it to her West Campus Warriors sweatshirt.
It was White Lies Day at the high-performing high school. A new-generation spirit day.
The small rally was held in support of Dr. Elysse Versher, the school’s Black vice principal who recently resigned, stating in a letter that racially motivated threats, sexual harassment and a lack of action from campus and district administration caused her serious physical and mental issues.
Students at the rally spoke of their own experiences with racism at the school. Senior Nevaeh Turk mentioned a class where students weighed the pros and cons of slavery.
“There were no pros to slavery,” Turk said. “I should not have to be oppressed where I learn; I should not come here and feel like I am less than.
“I should not have to come here and hear the word “Negro” out of my White peers’ mouths. That makes me uncomfortable.”
Students and Dr. Versher say incidents at West Campus largely go unchecked.
Ramos said he didn’t know that much about the November incident involving Dr. Versher. “There was one announcement about it and then it kind of went away.”
Dr. Versher also had acted as advisor for the school’s Black Student Union (BSU), which she says was referred to on campus by some non-Blacks as “Bull S*** United.”
Turk said with Dr. Versher gone, students likely won’t have the support of the BSU anymore. Students also spoke of not being supported in their dreams of pursuing higher education as other non-Black students are.
Students were supported at the rally by local activist Berry Accius of Voice of the Youth, who urged them to remain steadfast in their demands for better treatment.
Retired social worker Christine Fitzpatrick Sullivan praised Accius’ efforts.
“I’m glad this is happening,” said Fitzpatrick Sullivan, an older Black woman who was at the school to pick up a White student.
West Campus, she said, reminds her of the segregated schools she attended more than 60 years ago in St. Louis.
“I cannot understand why this school is so different,” she said of the lack of diversity at West Campus. “I was raised in the Midwest and faced racism. That still sticks with me. This looks like when I was raised.
“I knew with my history – and I’ve always been an activist – that something was wrong and that was before the vice principal’s story.”
Also at the gathering was West Campus alumna and local community advocate Christi Kethcum.
“I had a really good experience here because, like these young people, I created my own community,” Ketchum shared.
Ketchum said she brought the BSU to West Campus before graduating in 1993. There was pushback then too, she said.
“It didn’t go very well,” Ketchum said. “Some of it had to do with me, but it also had a lot to do with the lack of support.”
That not much has changed angers Ketchum, creator of the Sacramento Sister Circle group.
“I am infuriated that there was a vice principal, a Black woman here at this school that has experienced the trauma, the pain, the discrimination, and racism at the school that I graduated from. (Dr. Versher) felt completely unprotected and we as Black women, most of the time, are unprotected,” she said. “I’m disgusted, but I can’t say that I haven’t felt the same way as I’ve had similar experiences in other workplaces. It is common, it happens often, and that’s what’s not OK.”
Support for this Sacramento OBSERVER article was provided to Word In Black (WIB) by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. WIB is a collaborative of 10 Black-owned media that includes print and digital partners.