NUTLEY, NJ - On New Year’s Day, a video of three Nutley High School students using racial language and offensive stereotypes began circulating the Twittersphere. By now, most of the community has heard about this video, and most have formulated their own opinion on it. Whether they think it’s free speech or hate speech, they've seen it, and probably have something to say. The students of NHS are no different.
TAPinto Nutley listened to these students so that they could engage in a dialogue with the parents and other concerned citizens of our community.
During the age of “Cancel Culture”, a video like this is not taken lightly. Cancel Culture relies on a sort of public shaming to hold individuals responsible for their wrongdoings, to ensure that these individuals receive consequences for their actions. That certainly was the case with this video, a mistake that has impacted the lives of these three students. The administration of the Nutley Public Schools District does not share details of their investigation or punishment of the students. Regardless, on top of whatever punishment the students get from the school, they also have to deal with the fact that this video is now public and visible online. The shaming that is typical of Cancel Culture was prevalent in the comments section of the post that shared this video, with some people even making threats to the girls, their families, the school and the Township of Nutley.
Some people hold the belief that the students deserve the consequences, while others believe it to be too harsh a punishment for one mistake. One NHS Junior, who wishes to remain anonymous, stated that for incidents like this one, “it’s not the only time they made the mistake, it’s just the only time they got caught.” That idea is a driving force in Cancel Culture; individuals who get “called-out” often end up facing harsh consequences, in an attempt to compensate for all the perpetrators who don’t get caught.
The consequences that these three students faced are seen by many of their peers as being a necessary result for the town as a whole. Another anonymous Junior told TAPinto Nutley, “Although the girls are in an extremely unfortunate situation, someone had to be the example.” One Senior, E, believes that this punishment is meaningless, and that the administrative staff should “probably be educating these girls and other racist, bigoted kids/teens/adults in Nutley.” Several students that spoke to TAPinto believe that the punishment that the girls received was too light, with one anonymous Junior stating that it was just a “slap on the wrist” and “bare minimum punishment.” Another NHS Junior, R, stated that “the real reasoning (behind the video) is the lack of action in Nutley.”
Many of the students that spoke to TAPinto noted that casual acts of racism are common in the culture of Nutley High School. One Senior at NHS, A, who is African-American, says that she has been the target of racist jokes made by her fellow students. She also stated, “What was said in the video disgusted me, but it did not surprise me that it came from students of Nutley High School. With growing up in this town and in this school system, I have heard this type of language be used by my peers a few times before. Stereotypical jokes, racial slurs, and other offensive language.” This same student had contacted the school administrative staff via email when she first saw the video online, saying that “There are other students from other surrounding towns expressing their concern that this kind of behavior is okay at Nutley High School, and I want to be able to say that it is not.”
Junior R spoke on the frequency of racist slurs being thrown around by NHS students, saying that “Nutley students at football games call people from other towns racial slurs, and many older people in the town defend those who use racial slurs.”
This video circulated at the same time that another video was posted, in which a Nutley High School graduate was seen shouting a racial slur. The student now attends Rowan University, whose staff is dealing with the issue. The very short video was also sent out onto Twitter, but was deleted once it was brought to the University’s attention.
After some threats were made on Twitter, many NHS students were afraid of showing up to school, leading to a police presence in the high school. Senior E said “It’s really sad that our high school now has the type of reputation that police need to guard it because kids are scared to go to school.” Senior A stated that “it wasn’t the best feeling to see cop cars around the building first thing in the morning but at least we were safe... A lot of students were called out (to go home) throughout the school day or didn’t show up at all because they feared for their safety.”
The Senior class president is pushing for a better reputation for NHS. He told TAPinto Nutley that “The administration team is working tirelessly to improve the environment around NHS and maintain the safe haven which it already strives to be. The school does not like how this negative stigma is now associated with us, and is actively trying ways to fix our inaccurate public image.”
Much of the younger generation is ready for a push away from casual racism. Things that may not have seemed like an issue when many adults were growing up are now very offensive. Evan, a recent graduate of NHS, stated that “This is an issue that is going on here and everywhere in this country, and I think it’s important that it’s finally coming to light. I think it’s good that people are uncomfortable, because it shows that they are realizing that they might play a role in spreading this kind of sentiment. I hope that the next step is that Nutley as a community moves on and teaches our children the importance of respect and open-mindedness in the future.”
This incident has the possibility to become a learning experience for the students of NHS, and the community of Nutley as a whole. If the community is ready to respect and listen to each other’s opinions and experiences, Nutley can return to being the warm and welcoming place that we aspire to be.
Editor's Note: All discussions with students were conducted off of school property, outside of school hours.
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