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WEST VALLEY CITY — Granger High School is working on healing and apologizing for comments and actions made by a speaker at a school-wide assembly on Tuesday.
Granger High had an assembly to promote education and cultural diversity that included a number of speakers, one of them a Harvard graduate student — Cesar Cruz — who made comments that stirred up controversy. Cruz made comments and performed some actions that have caused the district to apologize and created, what has been described as, a divide in the school.
Cruz was a teacher for 20 years before being accepted to Harvard as a doctoral student in the education leadership program. His connections with an employee at Granger High set the wheels in motion to have him speak at the assembly.
For years Cruz has been a racial activist and is an Mexican emigrant.
“I also addressed issues of racism towards the Latino community and spoke about the positive contributions of Latinos in American history,” he said in an emailed statement.
He went on to say that he discussed issues in the history, and current issues, of America.
“I detailed difficult moments in U.S. history like the Mexican-American War and the lynching of Mexicans by the Texas Rangers,” Cruz said in his email. “I sited (sic) white scholars like Dr. Brene Brown and Dr. James Loewen. I also spoke about the importance of teaching African-American, Native-American, Asian-American and Latino history in school.”
According to parents and school administrators, some of what he said and, in specific, some of his actions made some students in the school uncomfortable during and after the school.
I can easily say that not everyone was offended by the remarks, but it did cause quite an uproar in the community itself, and frankly it caused an unnecessary racial divide in our community.
–Ben Horsley, Granite School District spokesperson
“I can easily say that not everyone was offended by the remarks, but it did cause quite an uproar in the community itself, and frankly it caused an unnecessary racial divide in our community,” said Ben Horsley, Granite School District spokesperson. “I think that’s what was most disappointing, is a speaker who claims to be bringing people together would cause disconcert in our community and make people look at the color of their skin instead of looking towards uniting our community towards educational goals.”
The community divide is what caused a Granger student to tell parents about the assembly. One parent, Melissa Jordan, said her son came home and said that the day was hard because of the assembly.
“I found about it today (Thursday), when my son came home from school,” Jordan said. “He just said that 'Today was a really hard day at school and the student body was really divided. That there were a lot of kids making racial comments, judgements that kids were feeling isolated based on their different ethnicity.’”
Jordan added that the school was promoting diversity but “the assembly that took place was absolutely not appropriate in any means.”
Exact details are disputed, but some specifics that are of particular concern from Cruz’s speech are the general tone of comments and an illustration during which he put a bag over his head showing how he used to sniff glue — seen by some as mocking teens with anxiety.
“This speaker talked about how he had a hard life growing up and that he used to do drugs, specifically sniff glue to try to get over his problems,” Jordan said. “Which I have no problem with something perpetuating like ‘I had a hard time I did drugs this is how you move past it, don’t go down that path.’ What I find completely ridiculous is that my son says that this guy grabbed a plastic bag out of his backpack and put it over his head and kind of simulated what it was like when he was sniffing glue breathing in and out, ‘I wish I had a better life, I wish I had a better life.’”
Jordan was upset because she believed this could give students ideas about doing drugs to escape problems, especially for those students who struggle with anxiety. There were enough complaints from students, teachers and parents that Granite district sent out an apology to every parent, although Jordan said she never received the call.
The call said that “there were aspects of his presentation that were inappropriate for our student population.”
In a school of 3,000 students, with close to 60 percent of the students being Latino, but only 1 percent of the staff reflecting that community there is bound to be some disconnect. The complaints are not coming from the majority of Latinos or Polynesians. They are also not coming from all white students or families. Many white students thanked me for speaking about important issues. It is American to have discourse and to disagree.
–Cesar Cruz, speaker at Granger High
It adds that the assembly and presentation were there for cultural diversity. The specific apology was for any student that “felt unsafe or talked down to, that was unintentional and regretful and we apologize.”
The call goes on to say that the district hopes that this will have parents and teachers use this to share their unique experiences in a safe way, then ends with the invitation to call the Granite school district with any concerns.
“I look forward to the continual dialogue and appreciate the concerns of some parents,” Cruz said in his email. “In a school of 3,000 students, with close to 60 percent of the students being Latino, but only 1 percent of the staff reflecting that community there is bound to be some disconnect. The complaints are not coming from the majority of Latinos or Polynesians. They are also not coming from all white students or families. Many white students thanked me for speaking about important issues. It is American to have discourse and to disagree. That is what took place. I presented a talk on Mexican-American history and how all kids can be resilient by learning their history and being proud of who they are. That should not offend anyone, and there should be space for that in all of our schools."
Horsley, Jordan and Cruz agree that the message was overall positive. However, the backlash is serious and the district with the anonymous parent is hoping that there is a way to get speakers checked before speaking. The parent wants to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again and wonders why no one at the school stopped Cruz while he was speaking.
As an activist, Cruz seems to understand that these sort of complaints will happen, on a website that displays his poetry quotes him with, “I'm not important; we're but seeds of social change. Our role is a simple one: 'To comfort the disturbed and to disturb the comfortable.' Nothing more, and nothing less.”
Contributing: Brianna Bodily