‘We are not racists’: Doll-hanging students apologise
Students at Trinity College who hanged a black-skinned doll from a tree, sparking a row over racism, have made a public apology.
Their actions were a moment of "juvenile stupidity" which was not motivated by racism but did cause unintended harm, the students said.
In a move to stem the negative fallout from the incident and declare a campaign to stamp out racism, a joint message from students on both sides of the controversy and head Nick Hately was sent to the school community on Thursday.
Three Year 12 students - Aballa, Rutendo and Yar - who spoke up against racism said they had felt a lack of empathy from teachers and students about how the incident "caused a resurfacing of traumatic events".
Aballa, who called for action via an online petition that attracted more than 13,000 supporters, told The Advertiser more education was needed to build understanding of history such as the public lynching of black people.
Aballa said she had received many messages of support, including from past students and people from other schools.
"I think there's a failure of the education system," she said.
Mr Hately said the Gawler-headquartered school celebrates Australian students speaking up against racism as the Black Lives Matter movement inspires worldwide activism.
He has outlined a 12-point plan of action to strengthen the school's policies, programs and training.
"The key to tackling any discrimination is education," he said.
The controversy began when Year 11 students last month completed a three-day Child Studies exercise to look after dolls fitted with electronic components to simulate a real baby.
At the end of the exercise, several students made videos of themselves bashing the dolls, which were crafted to represent various ethnicities, swinging them around by the arms and hanging them from their hats up a tree.
At least two videos were posted on social media.
"The incident with the doll was a moment of juvenile stupidity which we truly regret," the Year 11 students said.
"We did not do a mock lynching of a black-skin doll which is what we are being accused of, the doll was wrapped in a hat and thrown in a tree.
"Yes, we agree that it looked terrible and we regret that, but we never - nor would we ever - do a mock lynching of a black doll or even a white doll.
"We wish to state that we are not racists and did not deliberately do a racist act …. We have been taught to see others as equals and not to judge by the colour of someone's skin, or culture, we are all equals, and the incident with the doll was no different, we didn't see the colour we just saw a doll.
"We have met with the other girls and we now understand why what we did was so wrong and how it impacted them. We are sorry."
Mr Hately said racism and wider discrimination were borne of ignorance.
"All Australian schools need to commit to doing better; this is not just a Trinity College issue," he said.
"We can't rule out issues arising in the future but we can ensure our environment is more supportive, with more people prepared to share the load."
The 12-point plan includes:
MORE extensive cultural training units for staff and students;
ENGAGEMENT with Reconciliation SA and other advocacy groups;
EMPLOYMENT of a liaison officer, a support worker and a tutor to visit weekly to support students of African descent;
INCREASE counselling services and review all policies.
The activist students backed the action plan which, if delivered, would make them feel "heard and understood".
They did not support "the horrible social media posts which have been sent because of this" and just wanted to get back to their studies.
Nationally, the school curriculum is being reviewed with recommended reforms due to be presented to education ministers this September.
A statement by all education ministers - the Alice Spring (Mparntwe) Education Declaration of December 2019 - formed part of the review.
Under the declaration's first goal, the ministers called for a curriculum which ensures "education promotes and contributes to a socially cohesive society that values, respects and appreciates different points of view and cultural, social, linguistic and religious diversity".
Education Minister John Gardner said the Government "takes incidents of racism in schools very seriously".
Schools were expected to teach students to recognise culture and develop respect.
"SA schools are also supported with additional resources from organisations such as Racism, No Way!, Reconciliation SA and Reconciliation Australia," he said.
"In recent years the Government, the Association of Independent Schools SA and Catholic Education SA have also worked with Reconciliation Australia to develop Reconciliation Action Plans at school and/or system levels around SA."
Originally published as 'We are not racists': Doll-hanging students apologise