Students, alumni call for justice after stories of racism surface around Archbishop Molloy High School

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As the Black Lives Matter movement continues to surge as a result of injustice following the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by white Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, voices all around New York City — and the country — are being heard. 

But as people are recognizing that many organizations and celebrities have stayed silent throughout the movement, many have also noticed silence from local entities, including their high schools. 

Archbishop Molloy High School in Briarwood faced backlash from alumni and current students due to their lack of an initial response after Floyd’s death and the several protests that have followed. 

Shoma Nath, a 2016 alumna, took to Facebook to encourage students to reach out to the school’s administration and urge them to make a statement. 

“As you know our Molloy dearest is a massive feeder for the NYPD, and has a lot of white alumni. You may have also noticed that Molloy has taken no action to denounce any racism in the past week, or in its history, yet capitalize on black bodies as a diversity number and also for their sports, one of the highest donation streamlines for the school,” the post read.

Nath’s post continues on to urge the school in addressing the issues by emailing school President Richard Karsten and Principal Darius Penikas. 

The movement generated a response from the school, which on June 2 posted a statement on their Instagram page. 

“Like you, all of us at Archbishop Molloy High School are distressed by current events that reflect the racism and bigotry that unfortunately exist in our society,” the post read.

The statement continued on by expressing the Marist Catholic values that the school runs on. However, this response wasn’t enough for students and alumni alike, as they flooded the comment section with criticisms and personal stories where they’ve experienced racism and bigotry by their own teachers and peers that was overlooked by the administration, as first reported by Queens Patch

The comments ranged from students who graduated this year to as far back as 1990. Stories included those expressing discomfort with their teacher saying the N-word while reading “To Kill A Mockingbird” in class and another teacher constantly making homophobic jokes that implied, “gay people should die.” One story that was widely circulated is that of students who posted a selfie in white hoods with the caption, “clikkk.”

The school’s Instagram post has since been deleted.

Alex Celedon, class of 2019, created a form for people to write about their experiences, and students and alumni took further action by creating an Instagram page called humansofamhs, which gives a platform for students to share their experiences of racial profiling and discrimination at Molloy.

Sarah Rodriguez, class of 2018, decided to create the page after reading a thread on Twitter by a fellow alum who shared her experience. 

“I soon started to see more and more threads on experiences and decided to ask my best friends if they had any,” Rodriguez said. “In a sudden burst of anger I decided to post it on my Snapchat. I didn’t think much of it but more students from my year began coming to me with their experiences and I felt they needed to be seen out and in the open.”

The Twitter thread was created by Liliebel Pujols, class of 2015. In response to Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter movement, Pujols found it the appropriate time to share a time she got into a disagreement with a classmate about the Michael Brown case back in 2014. 

Pujols explains that her classmate believed Brown disrespected authority, only for the classmate to then get intoxicated later that night and steal a stop sign and express profanity directly at a police officer. 

“It was obviously never about authority because I [want to] know where this so-called respect he was going on and on about went?” Pujol tweeted. 

By June 3, Molloy issued a new statement addressing their original response, along with the comments. 

“Our community’s response humbled us. We realize now that, although well intentioned, our initial statement missed the mark and was not enough,” the revised statement — signed by Karsten and Penikas — read.

Addressing the critiques received in which their words are only words, the post continued.

“Now, Molloy is developing a three-stage action plan that will: address the issues of racism and sexism; institute a zero tolerance policy for racial comments and attacks; provide training for faculty and staff; hold each person accountable for their words and actions; and assure equitable discipline among all students.”

“We genuinely want to empower our students and alumni and continue to listen. In the past 48 hours we have taken several concrete steps to assemble a student advisory board for inclusion policies and action as well as a group representing our alumni perspective, all designed to help us listen in order to make meaningful changes,” President Richard Karsten said in an email. 

The school also archived its Facebook group for alumni, which keeps members from posting or commenting inside the group. In response, students of the 2016 class recreated an Facebook alumni group to allow members continue to share their stories. 

Multiple students and alumni agreed to speak directly with QNS and share their stories. 

Kirsten Erika Paulsen, class of 2013, recalled a time when a fellow classmate stated that their right to free speech allows them to use derogatory terms, in which her teacher did not choose to prohibit in class. Paulsen also said that her guidance counselor didn’t realize her classmate was using a transphobic slur in her peer groups class.

“I understand that Molloy, as a Catholic school, probably can’t promote LGBTQ rights, but that doesn’t mean it needs to tolerate bigotry against gay and trans people,” Paulsen said. “Like it or not, many Stanners are part of the LGBTQ community, just as many Stanners come from different faiths, countries, and cultures.”

Kristen Allen, class of 2017, disclosed instances in which she witnessed. These included students calling Trayvon Martin a “thug,” chants of “Build the Wall” and “Trump” occurred after the 2016 elections and students expressing excitement for getting the “Mexicans and rapists out.”

Two anonymous alums shared similar experiences in which their guidance counselor mentioned they shouldn’t apply to the more prestigious universities such as New York University, Cornell and Binghamton. One alum was told not to apply to NYU due to their income, without any background of their family’s earnings. Another alum was told to refrain from “pulling the Latino card” when applying to Cornell and Binghamton. 

Taylor-Simone Frederick, class of 2016, while not on school grounds said that they were at the beach on the last day of their senior year when her friend confronted a fellow classmate for his hate speech towards Black people that was read during class. The classmate then stalked Frederick and her friend around the block as he waved a confederate flag. 

“I had never felt true fear for simply being black than in that moment at seventeen years old,” Frederick said.

Similarly, The Mary Louis Academy is also undergoing accusations of racial injustice. 

Allie Lindo, class of 2009, shared a thread on her Twitter in regards to dress codes that were partially handled by administration. 

“They came down hard on Black and Latinx students while letting white students go for similar things,” Lindo said. “I saw the former principal Sister Kathleen yell at Black women for allegedly rolling up their skirts, which they hadn’t, while ignoring white students who had skirts raised well above the school guidelines.”

Lindo also recalled an incident when her friend was falsely accused of theft, which wasn’t resolved until her friend’s mother confronted the principal. 

Mary Louis did not respond to a request for comment, but he school issued a statement on Thursday, June 4, in response to the accusations.

“Our family is in pain. The recent murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor have painfully brought to the fore our need for real discussion and change at [The Mary Louis Academy].”

Students created a petition demanding an plan of action from the school that has received more than 2,000 signatures as of Friday morning. 

“The Mary Louis Academy has constantly stressed its philosophy of “unity, reconciliation, and all-inclusive love. Unfortunately, it has become clear that this motto is a façade and in no way describes the actions of many of their staff and students,” the petition reads.

Students and alumni will be holding a “Not for School But for Black Lives” protest at 1 p.m. on Saturday, June 6, in front of Archbishop Molloy, located at 83-53 Manton St. in Briarwood. 

The title of the protest is a play on school’s motto: “Non scholae sed vitae” — not for school, but for life.

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