In response to poor reporting

Photo courtesy of boardingschoolreview.com

Photo courtesy of boardingschoolreview.com

Katie J.M. Baker posted an article on BuzzFeed titled, “What Happens When A Prep School’s Black Student President Mocks Her White Male Classmates” on June 30, prompting a media frenzy. Major news outlets picked up the article, and a swarm of posts soon flooded my Facebook newsfeed.

As a 2012 Lawrenceville graduate, I was taken aback reading the article, but not because of what was written. Mainly, my frustration stemmed from what Baker failed to mention. I was not merely mad about what was said, but about how the information was presented. When pursuing a career in journalism, isn’t the first lesson you learn to be un-biased and to present both sides of a story? Where was the reporting?

As a Lawrenceville alumnus that spent three years there, I was confused as to why nothing about the school and its beliefs were included. While Lawrenceville was late in the game to accept black and even female students, the changes did occur. The institution that shaped who I have become and gave me a great education was now being questioned.

What Baker failed to mention was the number of discussions that Lawrenceville held on controversial topics or the countless influential speakers that came to the school. Students were constantly exposed to current events and controversial issues because the Lawrenceville School wanted us to realize that there are still many problems in the world.

While I may never know what Maya Peterson endured, I do know that Lawrenceville tried to shape us to be the best people we could be. That is where I find fault in the article. An educational institution cannot be fully responsible for its students’ character. While Maya Peterson should not have Instagrammed that photo because she was acting as a leader, the students quoted in the article should not have made such strong statements against her.

The Lawrenceville School has an honor code that all students know and must follow. The administration was doing what they would do in any situation when a person breaks the honor code.

“Every student knows we expect them to meet basic standards for honesty, integrity, and respect for others,” said a statement released by the Lawrenceville School. “In turn, we recognize that adolescents make mistakes and give our students every chance to be successful. But, they also know there are consequences for their actions and ultimately they will be held accountable for their behavior.”

That is why Maya Peterson was forced to resign. There were many students over the course of my three years at Lawrenceville that got expelled for breaking the rules. This is normal. The thing that sets Lawrenceville apart from other schools, though, is its two-strike policy. You are only expelled if you have two offenses. The administration hopes that you learn from your first mistake and do the right thing next time.

I am not trying to simply state my views on the recent article. I want to bring to light the issue that I have with the author. The issues that Baker brought up about Lawrenceville are seen on a daily basis all around us. The world still has a lot of changes to make, and while it is progressing, it continues to take time.

Moreover, the take-away is that this article lacks journalistic integrity. If I could offer any insight for people that did not attend this school it would be as follows:

It is not the Lawrenceville administration that is at fault here. Every boarding school is comprised of students of different races and different beliefs. The school’s responsibility is to expose students to the world around them and address many different thoughts, beliefs and biases as they come in. Lawrenceville has done just that. It is the inability of some of the students – on both sides – to learn their lesson.

  • Charlene Jean

    Interesting. The first thing the OP mentioned was “un-biased” and a response to poor reporting and staying neutral in journalism.

    Yet the writer of this article is alumni from the school itself.

    This entire article was written to defend her beloved mater and to avoid the question – what drove Peterson to this? Why was Maya as a gay, black, female felt she needed to respond to the uncomfortable and polarizing environment of her school? These articles have made a point– Maya is outspoken. Obviously her previous attempts of addressing the issues at hand did not work. Instead of actually figuring out WHY she posted this photo- the OP simply wants to vilify her. And take away the burn the school received.

    Yes, the OP does NOT know what she endured– this lead me, as a reader, to believe she does not deal with racism. She does not understand the burn and insult of Lawrenceville’s demand to recount and release the tallys of Peterson’s election- because no one believed that she could win.

    Getting called a “white boi” is rude, at best, but is not the pinnacle of racism. There are not double standards.

    Yes, it was inappropriate.
    But equally inappropriate are the confederate flags that many students complained of. The owners of those flags did not receive any retribution.

    If you are going to attempt to respond to “poor reporting,” please report correctly yourself.

    Understand your bias. Understand your privilege.

    • anonymous

      I am a current student at Lawrenceville, so you may say that I am also biased. However, I’d also like to point out that the issue with Maya was more about her numerous major school rule infractions than anything else. In her freshman year, she was caught cheating on a test (first major) and then bullied the Sikh student who reported her (second major). As the OP stated, Lawrenceville is a two-strike school. Normally any student with two majors would be immediately expelled, so I actually have no idea how Maya got away with it. Anyways, that was the major factor in why so many people couldn’t believe that she was elected president.

      The summer after Maya was elected president, a student sent the administration photos of Maya smoking weed in hopes of stirring up trouble, but the school decided not to de-president Maya or take any disciplinary action because they did not encourage that kind of malicious tattling. Instead they only pressured Maya into coming clean with her drug use in front of the student population, most of whom in fact lauded her for her courage. My point is that the infamous Instagram photo was only a very small part of why Maya stepped down, and perhaps that was what the OP wanted to say as well. There is so much more to Maya’s story that Buzzfeed chose not to include.

      Now onto racism. I understand that Maya had a hard time at Lawrenceville–not because she is black or because she is lesbian, but more because many people don’t like how outspoken she is about her beliefs (and she is very outspoken). I can only guess how painful it is for Maya to have her fellow Lawrentians turn on her whether by reporting her drug use to the administration or by doubting the legitimacy of her presidency. However, Lawrenceville is also nowhere as racist as Baker presented it to be. In fact, I have to come clean and admit that I still do not know what a Confederate flag looks like, because I am an international student and also because I may have spaced out during that particular history class. I have heard of one instance when some guy from the South hung up the flag on the wall of his dorm room, but the way I heard that information (whispered like it was some rare gossip) probably goes to show that it is nowhere as common as Baker implies.

      Here is another article that includes some of the other side of the story and also Maya’s own perspective on the Buzzfeed article:
      http://observer.com/2014/07/lawrenceville-school-ex-student-president-martyr-or-misquoted-college-freshman/

      – a current Lawrenceville student

  • Fred Robson

    Maya is nothing but a bomb throwing narcissist who has done nothing but advance her own agenda at the cost of the school. Being elected president flies in the face of her own bias towards whites (who elected her) Lets get over Maya being the victim. She has stirred the pot for her own delusional benefit.