Screenshot from Salinas High School Website, taken Sunday, August 22nd | Provided
UPDATE: Salinas Union High School District president Phillip Tabera today apologized to African American students, staff and community members on behalf of the school board over what he called “the highly insensitive, appalling and unacceptable action” described in the following story. Also, Superintendent Dan Burns said students responsible for creating the racist Instagram posts will not be eligible to participate in extracurricular activities and the district will require them to attend “restorative justice and healing sessions.”
Content Warning: this story contains graphic descriptions of racist acts performed by children and young adults while under school district supervision.
By Karen Dorantes
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On the night of Aug. 21, social media was flooded with posts from an Instagram page named “shaniqua.shs.” The page was created by Salinas High School students and it showed pictures of students who appeared to be mocking Black people. Students who found out about it flooded social media to demand that these students be held accountable for their racist actions. (At the time of publication, a change.org petition less than 24 hours old titled “Addressing the racism at SHS” has surpassed its goal of 5,000 signatures).
In screenshots taken of the now-private Instagram account (it has not been deleted), photos and videos show Salinas High School students posing with a Black baby doll, which they dubbed “Shaniqua” and had defaced and mistreated. In one particular video that went viral, students were seen stomping on the doll. In another screenshot, an Instagram post is captioned with a misspelled version of a racial slur.
The Instagram page seems to have been up for quite some time, as some screenshots — taken before it was reset to“private” on August 21 — show time stamps of posts as uploaded “4 days ago” when the screenshots were taken. Only Salinas High School students seemed to be aware of the page at first, and comments on various social media platforms say that the people posing with the doll were mainly seniors.
The Instagram account came to the attention of the general public after an Aug. 20 football jamboree that three Salinas high schools participated in, when students of other schools began exposing the posts. When people saw the racist actions of the Salinas High students, they started actively denouncing the behavior on social media and the account suddenly went private.
The video that went viral summed up everything that happened so that people could share and shed light on the situation. After this TikTok video gained traction, more videos and posts were shared about other racist occurrences at Salinas High School.
In one of the Instagram posts that many students shared, a youth posing with the doll was videotaped saying a racial slur and noting that most of the student body was aware of this event. The Instagram post on the “shaniqua.shs” account even poked fun at the student by captioning the post with a nickname the student had been given after the racial slur video surfaced. However, there were no repercussions for the students as they continued to be involved in school activities.
Many of the students denouncing Salinas High see the school not taking any significant action to punish this student is the school’s way of showing that this kind of behavior is okay.
Nayely Muratalla, a student who attends Rancho San Juan High School, said that when she found out about the Instagram account she felt “disappointed but not surprised” because she’d heard of racism from Salinas High School before.
Unfortunately, these actions did not surprise many students of color, who know what behavior to expect from some of their white peers at Salinas High. Incidents of bullying, name calling and racial slurs are common in this school with deep roots in agricultural elite circles.
A senior at Salinas High School who asked to remain anonymous told Voices of Monterey Bay “it wasn’t surprising” to see Snapchat and Instagram stories posted about the doll in this day and age. They explained they are aware of multiple occurrences of blatant racism in their school among students and staff.
They said some of those instances include white students saying the n-word and staff not doing anything about it, a popular substitute teacher encouraging students to say the n-word when reading “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and a history teacher saying an antisemitic slur and saying the n-word constantly.
A Twitter user by the name of Sienna also posted that, during the football Jamboree hosted by Salinas High, students yelled slurs to the Alisal High School student section that was predominantly Latino. Another Facebook user who goes by the name Ernie shared a story about how his wife witnessed white football players of Salinas High yelling profanities at the Alisal student section.
In response to the situation, the Salinas Union High School District issued a public statement saying they have initiated an investigation to identify anyone involved and that the school district condemns any type of racist behavior. The district advised parents to speak with their children about how racist behavior can be damaging to people, and that officials strive to maintain a “safe, positive school environment where all students, staff, parents/guardians, and community members are treated with respect and dignity.”
The Associated Student Body president of Salinas High School, who had posted a video of the doll, tagged the “shaniqua.shs” Instagram account — captioned with “Shoutout to my girl Shaniqua for pumping up the jamboree” — then issued a statement on Instagram apologizing to anyone offended by their post. The ASB president also said they had no involvement in the naming or creation of the doll or account, and that they now realize the doll and its name are offensive.
Apart from the district’s public statement, Salinas High School itself has not yet made a public statement to condemn any of the behavior witnessed this past weekend.
A protest is being planned at Tuesday’s Board of Trustees meeting. By noon on Sunday, the story had been picked up by a national blogger on TikTok. It will be interesting to see what kind of punishment, if any, the culprits of this very insensitive incident receive. Those who have personal experience with racist behavior from Salinas High are not holding their breath.
Update: The following statement was released by Superintendent Dan Burns on Monday afternoon:
“It goes without saying, the images and videos taken by several students at Salinas High School, as well as many others from our District high schools, are not only appalling, but they are simply unacceptable. Although the students involved have stated that anti-black racism was not their intent, the impact of their actions has further highlighted the need for District resources to be aligned to provide more learning opportunities to ensure that all students feel that school is a safe and inclusive place for their learning. At the same time, it is a reminder that the work started over a year ago to emphasize the need to lift up our black students, teachers and parents has only just begun.
“I have provided ongoing support and guidance for our staff who are conducting ongoing investigations. We are also contracting with a third party investigator to review all of the aspects of racism, hate and discrimination. We will continue to provide the resources and support to ensure that those that initiated, instigated or actively contributed to this incident are held accountable. I understand there is a desire for a swift resolution, but we are also going to look deeper into the root causes of this type of behavior so that change can be relevant and lasting. Let’s also not forget that those who have been identified as being involved are children, many between the ages of 15-17.
“That does not excuse their conduct, but is a reminder that beyond school punishments, they too need support and opportunities to learn and grow. The initial investigation resulted in student discipline administered to the student that initiated the incident, which included creating an Instagram account named after the doll. Student disciplinary consequences for students in this incident will be administered in accordance with CA Ed Code.
“The student that initiated this incident is not a cheerleader, member of any athletic team, nor a member of the ASB group. However, members of those groups, which are considered extra-curricular, may lose extra-curricular privileges for their involvement in this incident beyond just taking a photo. Additionally, there are students from multiple ethnic groups involved, and the entire football scrimmage is being reviewed for various levels of inappropriateness.
“I also want the community to know that many students, some from other schools, were asked to pose with the doll and were not aware that a racist Instagram account was created and connected to the doll. Many were misinformed and told that it was part of a class project.
“As a community, we are surely appalled by this incident and our students must be our focus as we unpack the layers. I have heard from almost 1,000 students and I feel the pain and trauma in their words. Therefore, moving forward, we will create safe spaces on our campuses to embrace our students’ voices and let them lead us to the change they seek and deserve. We, the SUHSD community, must do better.”
Note: Screenshots and images described in this article can be viewed by clicking the pdf below.
Names and faces of minors have been redacted for privacy.
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