Ladue High students protest racial incidents at school

Ladue students at protest on Wednesday of last week. Photo: Lily Hauptman

By Lily Hauptman and Jessica Goldberg, Ohr CHADASH TEEN PAGE CO-EDITORS

After an emotional week at Ladue Horton Watkins High School following allegations of racism, the administration and students are coming together to effect change and build a stronger sense of community and security. A town hall meeting with the NAACP was scheduled to take place at the Ethical Society of St. Louis Wednesday evening (Nov. 23) so that Ladue School District residents and staff could share their thoughts and feelings about race relations and discrimination in the district.  Parents, students, and district employees were specifically being encouraged to attend.  

“We are grateful for the NAACP’s immediate and proactive response to assisting our district,” Ladue Superintendent Donna Jahnke said in a statement to district residents.  “After recent incidents, our community needs time to have constructive conversation and begin to heal.  While this is just one of the ways we are pursuing that process, it is a vital and important one.”

About 150 high school students of various races and ethnicities walked out of class last week (Wednesday and Thursday) to voice their opinions about racism at Ladue. Rabbi Susan Talve of Central Reform Congregation addressed some of the protestors last Thursday, explaining that she was there to “support them, not speak for them.”  She added later that she was very impressed with the student leaders because they were “trying to create a safe space for students to tell their stories.”

“I feel like hearing what we have to say on the issue was really important, especially [with the protests] because some people really got passionate about what we were talking about,” said Ladue High junior Natalie Malone, who is African American. “We’re trying to get our point across about why we’re standing up for black lives.”

Although Ladue senior Mackenzie Hines-Wilson, who is also African American, functioned only as an observer during the protests, she thought it was important to show solidarity with her peers in their attempts to accomplish change. The protests united African-American, Latino, white and Asian students, as well as students in the LGBTQ community.


“When I think of ‘unity,’ I think of the ability to support others with a strong sense of selflessness,” said Ladue High social studies teacher Shante Lyons, who is African-American. “‘Unity’ is the essential tool for humanity to progress and thrive.”

According to Lyons, the protests stemmed from frustration about racial intolerance and possibly a racially charged incident on a Ladue high school bus. Students wanted to voice their opinions and concerns to the administration as well as the Ladue community.

“Ladue is very diverse,” Mackenzie said. “But in this moment we came together. We showed that everyone’s struggle should matter, and that’s something to be proud of.”

Ladue is one of the highest ranked high schools in the state, finishing third among Missouri schools in U.S. News & World Report’s annual rankings. Its student body is 38 percent minority.

The first day of protests had students walking to the district’s administrative office, wanting answers to questions regarding what measures the school was taking to ensure racial fairness at Ladue. However, the second day of protests shifted the focus to remedying issues of racism that some students say have been plaguing the school for a while. Students gathered at the front of the school, sat down, and shared stories about inequality while also brainstorming ideas about how to solve additional problems concerning the week’s events. 

“I think the goal was to bring these issues of discrimination and intolerance to light,” said Ladue junior Jenna Kalishman, who is Jewish. “The first protest focused more on gaining the attention, especially the attention of the administration. The second protest was to stand in solidarity with students who have felt discriminated against and unsafe in our school.”

Since the second protest, the administration has conducted meetings with students to develop rehabilitative strategies and directly confront underlying racism. One of the first steps was to bring in Educational Equity Consultants’ Billie Mayo for a healing session last Friday. 

“I think it was very helpful, especially for those students directly involved,” Jenna said. “There is a definite need for more sessions and conversations like those in order to create concrete change within our school.”

Ladue Principal Brad Griffith said another positive step was a peace vigil hosted Sunday (Nov. 20) by LadueCAREs, a district grassroots group that promotes racial equality in the Ladue community and beyond. Rabbi Andrea Goldstein of Shaare Emeth Congregation spoke at the vigil. She lives within the Ladue district.

“When you have dialogue, you can look at changing and addressing the pieces that need to be addressed,” Griffith said. “Part of that is getting to a place where people are talking, and that’s part of the effort.”

In order to work toward positive change and strategize resolutions, Lyons concluded that healing is essential. The Friday healing meeting included about 30 students from different racial and cultural backgrounds, who described their experiences in the Ladue community. 

“We need to be intentional in treating each other with care, compassion, and respect,” Lyons said. “These are very sensitive times for many people. However, we have a moral obligation to engage each other with care and compassion. This is how successful communities work.”

Macey Goldstein, a Ladue junior, opined that his Jewish, post-confirmation teachings encourage the very types of civil disobedience occurring at Ladue. The Jewish philosophy of tikkun olam, to repair the world, compels Macey to insist that lines of communication between students and administrators remain open and active.

“Protesting and taking action against something I see as unjust is [my] obligation as a human being and as a Jew,” Macey said. “Hopefully, the administration will be taking all of what they’re hearing into consideration and in the next few weeks, coming up with a concrete strategy, whether it be [implementing] sensitivity and anti-bias training, or more clear guidelines for punishing students.”

According to Mackenzie, in their small group meetings, students and administrators brainstormed approaches to increase Ladue’s commitment to celebrating its diverse student body. They discussed placing more emphasis on Black History Month and Hispanic Heritage Month, facilitating large-scale conversations, and creating more diversity programs, such as Reaching Inside Seeking Excellence (RISE), of which Mackenzie is the vice president.

“We plan on working with a club at Ladue Middle School that is similar to RISE in that it works with amazing African- American students as they complete their educational journey at Ladue,” Mackenzie said. “We plan on helping them understand what has occurred at the high school and to hear their perspective about what has occurred at the middle school in light of these events.”

Natalie thinks that the administration should hold additional meetings, either in small groups or with the entire school, to talk about how students can be more accepting of one another despite their differences. Currently, administrators are working on a smaller scale, sharing ideas with students, in an attempt to ensure that their ultimate plan will be as effective as possible.

“Treating everyone fairly would be the best option, especially now because there are so many different stances,” Natalie said. “I don’t want it to get more and more chaotic. I don’t want my little sister who is in the seventh grade coming to me and [saying], ‘This is racist. I don’t understand how this is happening.’”


Lily Hauptman is a junior at Ladue Horton Watkins High School and Jessica Goldberg is a senior at John Burroughs School. Both are editors this year of the Light’s Ohr Chadash teen section.