Greater than fear: Carroll County students take a stance on diversity | WYPR

Greater than fear: Carroll County students take a stance on diversity

Mar 2, 2017

Hamial Waince was once of at least 600 students wearing t-shirts promoting diversity at Westminster High School in Carroll County.

Students at predominately white Westminster High School fought back Wednesday after administrators removed posters promoting diversity. More than a third of them showed up wearing T-shirts modeled after the posters.

But things didn’t go exactly as planned at this Carroll County school that’s 87 percent white. A bomb threat led to the evacuation of the school in the afternoon just as thunderstorms rolled into Westminster. The students returned about a half hour before dismissal, some of them rattled by the threat.

As she walked to her bus, eleventh grader Samantha Waters said things were "pretty good until we had to evacuate."

"There were people wearing Trump shirts and Trump hats, but no one was saying anything that I heard." The posters, designed by graffiti artist and graphic designer, Shepard Fairey, carry a screen print image of a woman wearing an American flag as a hijab with the slogan, "We the people are greater than fear."

The posters were popular at the massive women’s March on Washington the day after President Trump’s inauguration and in demonstrations at airports, protesting the so-called Muslim travel ban.

Teachers put them up in support of students, but county school administrators, citing complaints and arguing the posters were political in nature took them down. County School Superintendent Stephen Guthrie said people felt they were anti-Trump.

"We have a policy, procedures, expectations, that classrooms will be neutral in political expression except when it's part of the lesson," he explained.

The posters and the students’ demonstration fly in the face of the image of rural Carroll County 40 miles from Baltimore, where 70 percent of the voters went for Trump last November. Yet the reaction to the posters left students confused.

"All it says is we the people are greater than fear," said Hamial Waince, a Pakistani- American Muslim senior at Westminster. She said the posters are about diversity, not politics.

"It’s just trying to prove that being an American doesn’t mean you have wear specific clothing, be a specific race or ethnicity," she said. "Anyone can be American because it is in fact the United States of America."

Superintendent Guthrie said he would respond differently to the posters, which had been up for a month, if he had it to do all over again.

He said he would have had a "conversation with the teachers, agree on what posters do represent diversity, and then replace the posters instead of having these vacant spaces in the classrooms."

But for now he says he supports students who want to display posters with the same message -- but without an implied political connection.

Many students said the day was important to them. Waince said she recently started wearing a hijab in part because of the support of her fellow students.

"The environment of feeling welcomed has skyrocketed," she said. "Everyone has been willing to support me, to protect me, especially for wearing the hijab because of how hesitant I was."

Despite the 600-plus students wearing the diversity T-shirts, there was some tension, said Ian Gibbs, one of the few African American students at the school, who was wearing one of the T-shirts.

"Today was a little worrying for me," he said, "because of the people wearing the Confederate flag jackets. Some people were posting over the pictures Trump’s face."

Students, teachers and staff said they see the spotlight on the county as a learning experience for students. And when it comes to the bomb threat, students said their T- shirts are more relevant than ever -- that their school is indeed greater than fear.