Fourteen students from a mostly white Catholic high school in San Francisco have been suspended for attending an outdoor weekend party where young people wore clothes meant to mimic a style associated with urban black culture, the school's president said Thursday.
The Rev. Edwin Harris, president of St. Ignatius College Preparatory High School, told parents in a letter that the gathering held Saturday at a large city park called Sigmund Stern Grove "appropriated pervasive negative stereotypes" and carried "racial overtones and racist implications."
"Regardless of the intent of those who participated, their actions had an adverse effect on the community and on them," Harris said. "We categorically condemn this gathering as it does not represent the Ignatian values or ideals that our school stands for."
Harris did not elaborate on what students wore and did at the event. But St. Ignatius Principal Patrick Ruff told the San Francisco Chronicle it was billed as a party for white people who emulate the language, gestures and dress popularized by rap and hip-hop videos.
"It's disheartening and incredibly sad this type of thing exists not just for SI, but for the entire city," Ruff told the newspaper.
A similar event during a Minnesota high school's homecoming week celebration in 2009 led a former student to file a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Red Wing School District. The school board settled the lawsuit for $90,000 in 2012.
The party last weekend in San Francisco drew teenagers from several schools and was not organized by St. Ignatius students, Harris said. School administrators learned about it Tuesday from students who had seen photos on social media, he said.
The suspended St. Ignatius students will be required to meet with members of the school's Black Student Union, and administrators are planning a school-wide assembly to discuss diversity, Harris said.