Burlington students say they're battling slurs at school - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Burlington students say they're battling slurs at school

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

"It's very bad. I experience racism almost every day," student Riziki Kassim said.

It's a serious charge from Kassim and nearly a dozen of her friends at Burlington High School who say fellow classmates hurl racial and ethnic slurs at the Somali immigrants regularly.

"I've been called the N-word sometimes I've been called dirty African," Kassim said.

"They call me a dirty African when we are not dirty," student Atika Hilowle said.

"We have been called African booty scratchers. I don't know where that came from," student Safia Haji said.

Burlington High School Principal Amy Mellencamp calls the language hurtful and denigrating.

"I think all of us need to be shocked. I think all of us need to be clear with any young person we come in contact with that these are not words that can be used in our community," Mellencamp said.

Students say they've been bringing these allegations to teachers for years with little action.

Mellencamp says BHS does take action when reports of the offensive language surface.

"I can tell you if I ever heard a word like that a student is called on it," Mellencamp said.

The longtime principal says her teachers are just as quick to respond.

"If it comes to us we have an immediate meeting with the students involved," Mellencamp said. "There are consequences that are outlined; calls to parents are made, so there is a very specific system I guess I would tell you about how it does work."

Reporter Keith McGilvery: There's a sign in your lobby that I read that says a respectful environment is everyone's responsibility and everybody's right. Do we have that here at Burlington High School?

Amy Mellencamp: I think we try the best we can. I think we are a mirror of our society, I think our society needs to improve and I think Burlington High School needs to improve.

Kassim says what's being done now isn't working. And a large part of solving the problem will take finding new ways to talk to her peers about the power of their words.

"Some stuff that people say even though it might seem little to them-- it hurts other people. It really affects them and they don't think about that, they just say stuff," Kassim said.

Mellencamp is reiterating to students that if they're having a problem at school to see her or another adult. She says she can't help if she doesn't know about an incident.

The students we spoke to were all young women. They tell me that because they wear traditional dress, they are more recognizable than some of their male counterparts who they say blend in more easily at school.

Mellencamp is looking into the idea of holding a schoolwide forum in May to allow students to speak about the problem and work toward solutions.

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