A Catholic San Francisco high school has suspended 14 students for wearing clothes to an outdoor weekend party meant to mimic a style associated with urban black culture, the school’s president said Thursday.
The Rev. Edwin Harris, president of the mostly white St. Ignatius College Preparatory High School, told parents in a letter that the party held Saturday at Sigmund Stern Grove “appropriated pervasive negative stereotypes” and carried “racial overtones and racist implications.”
"Regardless of the intent of those who participated, their actions had an adverse effect on the community and on them," Harris said. "We categorically condemn this gathering as it does not represent the Ignatian values or ideals that our school stands for."
The students’ clothing was not detailed in Harris’ letter, but Principal Patrick Ruff told the San Francisco Chronicle it was billed as a party for white people who emulate the language, gestures and dress popularized by rap and hip-hop videos.
"It's disheartening and incredibly sad this type of thing exists not just for SI, but for the entire city," Ruff told the paper.
Rupp said the school has strived to educate students on social justice issues and hopes last weekend’s incident can provide a lasting impression for current and future students.
A similar event during a Minnesota high school's homecoming week celebration in 2009 led a former student to file a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Red Wing School District. The school board settled the lawsuit for $90,000 in 2012.
The party last weekend in San Francisco drew teenagers from several schools and was not organized by St. Ignatius students, Harris said. School administrators learned about it Tuesday from students who had seen photos on social media, he said.
Thomas O’Halloran, an 18-year-old senior, told the San Francisco Chronicle he knew kids were throwing the party and he knew some that regret going to it.
“You can’t go to a party like that and post pictures on social media and think that nothing is going to happen,” he said. “It’s just weird that this would happen at an institution that tries so hard to promote inclusion.”
The suspended St. Ignatius students will be required to meet with members of the school's Black Student Union, and administrators are planning a school-wide assembly to discuss diversity, Harris said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.