If a monkey hitting typewriter keys at random will eventually write the collected works of Shakespeare, what will a group of bored high school seniors wearing lettered t-shirts spell out?
The original — and ultimate — plan was a photo of the graduating class at Desert Vista High School in Phoenix arranged in such a way as to spell out the message “Best you’ve ever seen class of 2016.” Because there are 36 students in the class and that message has only 29 characters, the spaces between words were filled with t-shirts emblazoned with asterisks:
But while the equipment was being set up, students milling about began a game of what some have called “Human Scrabble,” using different combinations of the constituent letters to spell other words.
Desert Vista students were playing "human Scrabble" with letter shirts when slur photo was taken, according to school officials #abc15
— Melissa Blasius (@MelissaBlasius) January 25, 2016
Six girls in the class hit upon the “hilarious” idea of spelling out a racial slur, complete with asterisks (the “1” is used as an “I”):
The photo, posted to the social media account of a friend (who, please note, is black), went viral. Care to guess what’s happened since?
ABC affiliate KNXV reports that civil rights leaders held a rally outside the school Monday. The school administration spoke out as well in the person of Jill Hanks, executive director of community relations for Tempe Union High School District, who released a statement reading:
We are absolutely aware and outraged by this behavior. The students will be disciplined in accordance with district policy and while we don’t discuss specific discipline I can tell you that will be addressing the obvious need for sensitivity training in this case.
What discipline would be appropriate? If the 36,000 signatories to a petition get their way, the girls will be expelled.
One of the teens involved, Rachel Steigerwald, entered the lion’s den Monday. Standing amid the protesters, she told news cameras:
I am incredibly, incredibly sorry. I have love for everyone in my heart. I am not a racist and I am asking everyone for forgiveness.
I wouldn’t count on forgiveness or compassion from those currently calling for her and the other teens’ heads.
The whole incident began with a joke — a foolish, irresponsible joke — but a joke nevertheless.
Should the girls be punished? Sure. But let the punishment fit the crime. Expulsion could ultimately affect their acceptance by colleges, which in turn could impact their entire lives. As one man in the video says, beginning at around 1:36:
I can imagine that this weekend has been the worst weekend of their lives, staying in the house with their parents. Let it be a lesson learned.