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#BlackInBrooklynTech: Students Use Hashtag Activism to Call Out Racism

Black students at Brooklyn Technical High School seem to have had enough of the racism they've experienced at school and are now calling for change.
Matt Rourke / AP

A group of Black students at Brooklyn Technical High School in New York City, are speaking out about discrimination they experience at school and using social media as a call for action.

The hashtag #blackinbrooklyntech is being used by students to share collective stories of racism, ignorance or microaggresions that some say they have encountered at the competitive, public school. Brooklyn Tech is 59 percent Asian, but less than 8 percent Black.

The tag has prompted students of other elite public high schools to share stories of the shortcomings of their own alma maters. A petition started by Brooklyn Tech alumni to bring awareness to issues has garnered almost 500 signatures.

"A search of the trending #blackinbrooklyntech hashtag on Facebook will reveal some of the most utterly disgusting and offensive things that have been said to current students and alums by their peers and in some cases faculty," the petition reads. "As a proud alum, it would be nice to have other alums and non-alums join in and send a message to the administration that this cannot be tolerated and that these claims have to be looked into."

On Tuesday the NYC Department of Education told NBCBLK that Brooklyn Tech will provide anti-discrimination/diversity training to all staff members as part of their response to students' concerns.

Brook Baker, who works with three of the students who started the hashtag at a tutoring program in Brooklyn where they intern, said that after hearing their stories she shared some of them on Facebook.The kids added the hashtag and it took off, with alumni of the school joining in to share their experiences. In one of many posts under the hashtag, one student shared a line she'd heard before, "You're going to end up like Sandra Bland."

In a letter to NBCBLK, students who claim responsibility for launching the hashtag campaign expressed feeling frustration with the administration. "Faculty members are complacent in permitting racially insensitive comments in the classroom, and often make offensive comments themselves," the letter reads. "This causes a very real and rational fear of retaliation amongst students who feel the need to speak out against these issues and so don’t."

The students who penned the letter asked not to be identified, for fear that speaking to media would hurt their college admissions.

According to Baker, one of the students she works with was brought into a chat room during this past winter recess, along with other Black students, where racial slurs were made against them. Even after Black students started the hashtag, other students allegedly started their own to mock it. One student wrote, "Being accused of being a school shooter #whiteinbrooklyntech." It was later deleted.

"What really broke my heart is when one of the student's teachers asked her what she wanted to be and she said a doctor and the lady looked at her and laughed," Baker told NBCBLK. "That's not acceptable. These are people that are supposed to be uplifting you and they are trying to tear you down."

Principal Randy Asher held a meeting with the school's Black Student Union on Monday afternoon to open a dialogue about their concerns and encourage them to bring issues to faculty.

"The DOE is working in close partnership with Brooklyn ‎Tech leadership to ensure there is a respectful and inclusive learning environment for all students," DOE Press Secretary Devora Kaye told NBCBLK. "We have zero tolerance for any discrimination. We'll work to provide open forums for the school community to discuss these important issues and will provide any support that is needed."

Students expressed concern over whether the school will take these matters seriously. In the statement to NBCBLK, students described the meeting: "The general consensus after the meeting was disappointment with the deflective way in which he [the principal] responded to us, shifting blame to faculty and students for not reporting incidents. We feel that our efforts should be addressed more comprehensively and specifically in the future."

Coincidently, Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke of racial tolerance when he gave the keynote speech last year at Brooklyn Tech's graduation ceremony. De Blasio's son Dante, who now attends Yale, is a 2015 Brooklyn Tech graduate.