NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Students at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School in Riverdale made headlines earlier this week after they staged a “lock-in” to protest the school’s handling of an incident involving two students at the school. The video was created years ago but showed current students using racial and homophobic slurs.
On Thursday, the students in charge of the demonstration held a press conference at the school to address their demands and potential changes to the school’s policy. It was a victory parade for the students after their demands for action against bias, bigotry and racism at their school were answered by administrators.
It appears their efforts will pay off in the form of long-term curriculum changes and sensitivity training at the elite private school.
“It was really great throughout the process, just to have a strong support system of parents, families, other students, just supporting us and encouraging us to keep pushing and not letting up. Ultimately, getting all those demands met,” said student Isabelle Ferrer.
For four days and three nights, nearly 100 students lead by the group “Students of Color Matter,” held a “lock in” in the administrative building of the elite private school in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. They were outraged by what they perceived as the school’s lack of discipline of current students who were seen making racial and homophobic comments in a viral video.
The students presented 20 demands of the administration, including racial bias training, hiring more faculty of colo, recruiting more students of color and mandating a black studies course.
After a seven hour meeting with the students, administrators and the board of trustees agreed to their demands.
“I think we all realize this is a legacy for our school. We talked to the lower school and the middle school today and it made us very emotional because we know a lot of us are juniors and seniors and the demands that we made are going to be implemented in the long term,” said student Kiah George.
“It was just so amazing. It was so impactful. So incredible, and I’m so happy,” said senio Zara West-Uzoigwe.
Fieldston administrators didn’t join the students in making their announcement today. The high schoolers are hoping other schools will follow their lead.
“We know we want to implement change, like, systematic change. Not only here, but around our school, around our state, in this country in general,” George said.
Of course, not all the change can happen overnight. While some of the student’s demands will affect immediately, others will be phased in over the next 2-3 years.
Students thanked the board and school’s administration for being open to their ideas and open to change.
“This work is just the beginning,” senior Isabella Ali said. “We will continue to hold this institution accountable and insure the implementation of these demands. The work that has been done is imperative to fulfill the school’s progressive mission, which includes a commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, social justice and ethical engagement. We hope that the triumphs attained as a result of this movement will serve as a catalyst for continuous change across educational institutions everywhere.”
Mediator Keith Wright, who attended Fieldston in the 1970s, thanked the board of trustees and the school’s teachers for their guidance.
“These young folks are going to become the future presidents of the United States, I do hope,” Wright said. “I think the students now and in the future got exactly what they wanted and the school got exactly what it needed.”
“My grandmother used to always tell me that in order to cure cancer, you have to expose cancer,” Wright said. “So what these folks have done, and will continue to do, is to cure the cancer that is not only here at this institution but also has spread all through the city, state and the country.”