Berkeley High School, or BHS, announced the launch of an investigation into a racist and discriminatory student-run Instagram account Tuesday.
The now-deleted account was run by two BHS students and targeted disabled, Jewish and Black communities, according to BHS senior and Berkeley Unified School District student director Uma Nagarajam-Swenson.
The account, which had a handle of “ i_hate_jews45,” had been up since the beginning of July and had about 70 followers. After BHS junior and co-president of the BHS Black Student Union Berenabas Lukas took pictures of the account’s content and published it online Monday night, the account’s administrators changed the name of the account to “we_are_sorry7484339” before deleting it.
The account was also discussed at the BUSD meeting Wednesday night. Representatives from the BSU and the Jewish community came and spoke at the meeting to address how this account had affected them.
At the board meeting, BHS junior Laelah Jackson said BSU held a lunchtime meeting Tuesday with the students behind the account discussing how the posts had affected the school community. Jackson added that after the meeting, there was a physical altercation between a student who created the account and a student who was affected by the account. Both students involved were suspended.
“Berkeley High’s administration team acted very quickly in their suspension towards a student defending himself from hate speech,” Jackson said. “It is evident that Berkeley High knows how to handle issues surrounding physical harm, but the lack in knowledge of what to do when it comes to emotional harm is baffling.”
Jackson also referenced previous problems with discriminatory actions from others students in past years, including a student that posted threats to Black individuals on a library computer. Nagarajam-Swenson said something like this has happened every year since she started at BHS.
According to Nagarajam-Swenson, the school has begun to administer punishments to the students involved. She believes, however, that there will be a more significant reaction from district and school officials.
“(The punishment) seems minimal,” Nagarajam-Swenson said. “The board isn’t going to let this go. If they do, I will make sure this will be something that will be remembered. There is a board comment section. I will bring this up at every single meeting and make sure people come and talk as well.”
During the board meeting, BUSD school board president Ty Alper commented on the situation and its relation to the Berkeley community in general. Alper said there was no routine way to handle the situation, but he had faith in the school community to work past it.
“What gives me hope that we can and will address this, and provide the support our students need, is two things: We have incredible, resilient, brilliant, brave students, and we have compassionate, talented, caring and devoted classified staff, teachers and administrators,” Alper said.
BUSD Superintendent Donald Evans sent an email to BUSD families Thursday afternoon stating that he was appalled by the students’ “hateful behaviors.” Although the details of the investigation and subsequent actions taken by the school district are still unclear, Evans said in his email that he believed the investigation’s work will create change.
“I am meeting with student leaders this week to partner with them in creating a series of courageous conversations and actions that lead to real change,” Evans said in his email.
Staff writer Sydney Fix also contributed to this story.