Wellesley High School Principal Dr. Jamie Chisum informed families late on Wednesday afternoon of an anti-semitic incident that took place during the school’s Seminar Day, an annual event during which students, staff and other community members their talents and knowledge on subjects from offbeat to serious. This year, due to the pandemic, the event was online-only and limited to student- and staff-run seminars.
The incident comes at a time when Wellesley is doubling down on anti-racism and anti-bias, with the Select Board recently issuing a formal statement on this subject, and working with the police department on a rapid-response team to address discriminatory actions.
Here’s the memo sent to the Wellesley High community:
As I hope all of you know today was our annual Seminar Day at Wellesley High School. Each year we suspend regular classes for our half day at the start of March and run seminars on topics of interest for our students. Today we had seminars on topics ranging from meditation, to Texas hold ‘em Poker (no actual gambling), to redesigning the State flag of Massachusetts, to cookie baking. Students get to choose their seminars and this year they were all run digitally by other students with staff support or by staff themselves. It is often a day that students highlight as one of their favorite events all year.
Unfortunately, during our very popular Improv troupe seminar, there was a chat feature enabled so participants could interact with the presenters. In that chat one of the participants wrote the following bias based, anti-semitic speech, “Heil Hitler”. There was a group of student moderators for the session who noticed the comment and stopped it from going out to the whole group, so the statement was only read by the moderators. The student then notified the teacher in charge of the session and after the session was completed, an administrator was notified. I am thankful to those moderators for acting quickly and appropriately in this moment.
The Wellesley Public Schools, and Wellesley High school in this particular case, vehemently denounce this speech as hateful, hurtful, and anti-semitic. The “Heil Hitler” salute was historically a salute toward the creation of a society that eliminated Jews, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+, and other marginalized groups. This is not speech that reflects our core values and we do not expect any members of our community to stand by and let it go unchallenged.
Given that this was a large seminar with over 100 participants, we are still investigating to find out who typed this statement. We will be taking this investigation and the findings of it seriously as is our policy in matters like this. According to district policy, we have also logged this incident with our district’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, using our bias-based incident reporting protocol. Additionally, and also in accordance with our district policy, we have notified the Wellesley Police Department and the Anti-Defamation League to alert them about what happened.
I am disturbed that the incident happened at all; and that it would happen on what is often one of our happiest days of the year here is also disappointing. If there is more information to share as we move forward we certainly will do that. If you have any further questions, concerns, or information you think we don’t have, please do not hesitate to reach out.