Cultural and religious insensitivity at Pleasant Valley


Photo credit to Susan Anil

Inspiring quote from Pleasant Valley High School teacher, Dr. Lundberg

Susan Anil and Sujay Marisetty

When it comes down to jokes, almost anything is fair game. But it becomes concerning when people take the jokes too far.

Not long ago, a parent reached out to Pleasant Valley High School’s principal, Mike Zimmer, about her concerns with the insensitivity that her child had been witnessing. In regards to a student of Hispanic descent, her daughter noticed that comments such as “hey, where is your green card” and “hey, back up, there’s the wall” were just a few among the many jokes that the student’s friends had remarked.

In addition to this inappropriate questioning of citizenship, the parent wrote in the email that her child witnessed a Hispanic student being the target of additional derogatory statements when another said not to let “that Mexican steal my seat.”

Unfortunately, it didn’t end there. The parent also mentioned the other forms of blatant cultural/religious insensitivity at the high school, such as swastikas being drawn on desks and in bathrooms, as well as students being made fun of for wearing yamakas. Others were overheard equating the smoke from their vapes to the deathly gas from Holocaust gas chambers.

Whether these students’ statements were intentionally malicious or not, these accounts draw light towards a serious problem–a lack of respect and decency. It’s not okay to pass off jokes that point fingers towards one’s ethnicity or culture.

Often, these jokes are followed up by the common refrain, “just kidding,” which is a large part of the problem. Perhaps what is most disturbing is students directing hateful statements towards their friends.This implies that students do not see the severity and inappropriate nature of such statements.

This lack of sensitivity is not only directed towards the Hispanic and Jewish students at Pleasant Valley, but also towards many of the ethnic and religious minorities at the school.  

Students and staff alike are fed up with this behavior. Lynne Lundberg, an English teacher and human rights activist, commented on this inappropriate and unjust behavior. “Hatred lurks [in our school] and those who hate feel entitled to express their heinous views.”

Hatred lurks [in our school] and those who hate feel entitled to express their heinous views.”

— Lynne Lundberg

As a Muslim, senior Haleema Waheed feels disheartened when thinking that her religion, which makes her a minority at the high school, could make her the target of such jokes. “It is unsettling to know that there are people at Pleasant Valley engaging in this kind of behavior. It makes people like me, a person of color and of a minority religion, feel unsafe in this educational environment. It is evident that a change needs to be made.”

Making a change is exactly what administration is trying to do. Whether it be these comments stem from a place of comedy, ignorance, or just plain bigotry, it should be known that remarks of this nature will not be tolerated by administration and other staff. Zimmer discussed the severe consequences of such comments. “Perpetrators will be removed from our educational setting until it can be determined that they are not a safety threat to our school,” he stated in an email.

Not only should students put an end to this behavior to avoid disciplinary action, but more importantly they should do it because this type of behavior is not just. It is not right to make jokes about walls and green cards when families are being ripped apart. It is not right to make jokes about the Holocaust and Nazi Germany, a time when almost 500,000 Jewish people died because they were being unjustly and cruelly persecuted.

These are people’s lives, families, religions, and cultures, not the foundation for cruel and insensitive jokes. It is time to recognize that, learn from past mistakes, and make a change.

“Speak out against hatred, and speak out in love,” Lundberg explained. “Trust what Martin Luther King Jr. and other great thinkers have told us: The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”