Racially charged graffiti sparks meeting, protest at Warren High
Minority students organized what became a large indoor group meeting and a protest outside Thursday in reaction to a "White's Only" message scrawled on a bathroom door at Warren Township High School's junior-senior campus in Gurnee.
John Ahlgrim, superintendent of Gurnee-based Warren District 121, said 150 to 200 students gathered in a hallway near the Almond Road campus library to discuss diversity and respect. The session went about an hour and occupied all of Thursday's sixth period for the participants.
Almond campus Principal Patrick Keeley listened to the concerns and plans diversity-related meetings with some of the students and parents.
"It was emotional," Ahlgrim said.
Gurnee police and District 121 officials are investigating the graffiti -- written in black marker with a grammatically incorrect apostrophe -- noticed by a student on a women's bathroom door Wednesday afternoon.
After the meeting with the principal, students and others protested outside the school. Stephanie Vega said she and other students should be safe in school and that the election of Donald Trump as president probably provoked the graffiti. Ahlgrim alluded to the election in a letter to parents.
"He's not even president yet and this is already happening," Vega said during the outdoor protest. "I think all of us are scared for what's going to happen in the future."
Anthony Aguilar, 19, of Gurnee, who graduated from Warren in 2015, said he participated in the protest because such a racially charged message should not have surfaced in the school.
"I was very surprised," Aguilar said, "because when I was attending Warren Township, I didn't face any discrimination."
Ahlgrim said a student immediately reported the "inappropriate, racially insensitive graffiti" to a school employee.
"Obviously, this type of hateful conduct is not to be tolerated," Ahlgrim wrote in an email letter sent to parents Wednesday night. "The very recent national election has also heightened the emotional level of our school community as it pertains to the issue of diversity, and students who may have seen this graffiti either on campus or through a photo of this posted on social media may be upset."
Initially, a "sit-out" protest was promoted by some minority students in support of what they consider oppressed groups, including Latinos, Muslims, blacks and the LGBTQ community. Ahlgrim said the 150 to 200 students shifted to meeting with the principal near the library before the outdoor protest.
Gurnee resident Zara Potash said her 15-year-old daughter, who attends Warren's O'Plaine Road campus for freshmen and sophomores, became upset after receiving a text image of the graffiti Wednesday. She credited District 121 administrators for addressing the issue quickly.
Potash said she believes Trump's election as president influenced the graffiti.
"Regardless if it's a joke or it's just somebody trying to get attention, this is not funny," she said. "It's scary."