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The Beacon

The Student Newspaper of MAST Academy, since 1991.
The Student News Site of MAST Academy

The Beacon

The Beacon

Senior Issue 2024
June 5, 2024

Confronting Discrimination at MAST Academy

Collman-Perez heralds proactive response to harassment, changes from prior administration
A+student+looks+into+a+mirror+with+harassing+words.+Some+MAST+Academy+students+report+harassment+from+their+classmates.+Artwork+by+Lauren+Lemaitre.
A student looks into a mirror with harassing words. Some MAST Academy students report harassment from their classmates. Artwork by Lauren Lemaitre.

When people think of MAST Academy they think of a school of excellence, a school ranked in the top one percent of high schools in the country, but, for some students, their first thought is discrimination and intolerance directed at minority students.

“My mother first told me that when I would go here, to expect something to happen to you,” senior Esther Abraham and president of the Black Student Association said. “MAST has a history of racism. The Black kids know not to come here, why do you think we have no black kids here? They leave.”

According to the MAST Academy student handbook, the Miami-Dade County School Board prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of sex, race, color, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender or gender identification, and any other basis prohibited by law. Despite this, a number of students and faculty believe that discrimination still exists at MAST.

During the Black History Month Showcase, Abraham and senior Mylah Tate, vice president of the Black Student Association, ended with an eye-opening call to bring attention to and urge for a crucial evaluation of the inequality and discrimination still present at MAST today from the perspective of black students.

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Black Student Association president Esther Abraham, right, and vice president Mylah Tate address the crowd at the Black History Month Showcase. Photo by Emma Almanza.
Black Student Association president Esther Abraham, right, and vice president Mylah Tate address the crowd at the Black History Month Showcase. Photo by Emma Almanza.

After speaking with a variety of students, many have shared what they have witnessed or how they personally felt discriminated against or harassed.

“Whether it’s racist slurs or homophobic slurs, I hear it almost daily,” senior Maya Collie said.

We were walking and holding hands, and a group of boys started following us, whispering to one another and taunting us by saying things such as ‘Are they gonna kiss?’, ‘You guys should kiss!’

— Emma Kershaw, Junior

“Pretty much every day I’ll hear the N-word. I’ll be walking up the stairs, and I’ll hear someone say the n-word and then point at me and be like, ‘Shush, there’s a black girl right there.’ Even in the buses I take, I’ll sit down and someone will write the N-word… or in the school bathrooms, I’ll see it written on the wall,” Tate shared with The Beacon.

Minority students are not only faced with hateful remarks on the basis of their race or ethnicity. Many have said they have been discriminated against because of their sexuality. During and after the “Don’t Say Gay” walkout last November, a few students expressed the insults they faced from other students.

“I was walking to class, and someone purposely bumped into me and called me the f-slur,” junior Santiago Lastra said.

Junior Emma Kershaw also shared that at the same event, during a moment of silence, a group of boys called her girlfriend and her “disgusting dogs” and barked at them. They also asked how they had the audacity to show their relationship in public.

Kershaw and her girlfriend have not only felt discrimination but have also been harassed.

“We were walking and holding hands, and a group of boys started following us, whispering to one another and taunting us by saying things such as ‘Are they gonna kiss?’, ‘You guys should kiss!’” Kershaw said.

Students participated in a walkout in protest of state policy toward the LGBTQ+ community on Nov. 4, 2022. Students at this protest allege harassment by classmates. Photo via Beacon archive.
Students participated in a walkout in protest of state policy toward the LGBTQ+ community on Nov. 4, 2022. Students at this protest alledge harassment by classmates. Photo via Beacon archive.

Recently, General Paper teacher Ms. Ganuza shared with her students a 2018 essay by Tiana Headley on MAST’s history and discrimination at the school. Headly, then a senior at the school, wrote that MAST Academy originated from the summer program, Inner City Marine Project (ICMP). It was started to expose minority students to marine-related careers. Eventually, the program evolved into MAST Academy, with a race quota ensuring 33 percent of the total student body would remain Black. In 2001, however, this was removed, and as of 2022, only 2 percent of the student body is Black.

After reading Headley’s essay, a few of Ganuza’s students have shared how this has opened their eyes and brought this immense problem to their attention, making them much more aware than they were before.

“I was walking past the [senior couch] and a senior sitting there screamed the n-word to a black student after school… I didn’t really notice these things were happening before,” junior Alejandro Perez said.

MAST Academy is not the place for you to exhibit discriminatory behavior or behaviors that violate anyone’s civil rights. And if those behaviors should occur, the Code of Conduct and Magnet Agreement are followed to the fullest extent, and those students will be exited from MAST Academy.

— Dr. Cadian Collman-Perez, Principal

A noticeable trend among the students interviewed who have felt discriminated against is that women are the primary targets of discrimination at MAST. The majority of men of color who have been interviewed by The Beacon shared that they have felt discrimination because of their sexuality instead. This therefore sheds light on the theory that there may be a sort of hierarchy of respect at this school, placing any form of femininity at the bottom and masculinity at the top.

The stories shared by students about discrimination and harassment faced at MAST begs the question: What is being done to effectively deal with this ­issue?

In an interview with MAST Academy principal Dr. Collman-Perez and assistant principals Dr. Gould and Mr. Semeraro, Dr. Collman-Perez shared her response to the discrimination felt by students. She stated that her first initiative when hired at MAST was to talk to students and parents about the problem of discrimination and harassment.

She started a campaign called “You Belong Here” to let all students know that regardless of color, disability, sexual orientation, gender, or zip code, “you have a place here.”

Due to their negative experiences in reporting what they faced before Dr. Collman’s administration, some students are discouraged from reporting again as they feel it is ineffective.

“I went to administration and nothing was done,” Tate said. “And because nothing was done, I didn’t go back because I felt like nothing was going to get fixed.”

Dr. Collman-Perez expressed that no complaint has gone unaddressed during her time here and encourages all students to speak up.

On April 27, Collman-Perez hosted the “Second Cup of Coffee with the Captain,” a meeting with MAST parents. She addressed behavioral issues prevalent in middle school and Grade 9, reminding parents that “discriminatory behaviors will not be tolerated.” Within the last week, a student was exited from MAST for a post on social media with an offensive caption.

Art teacher Mr. Lacayo spoke to The Beacon and shared that MAST also works with the C.A.R.E.S. (Creating an Atmosphere of Respect, Equality, and Sensitivity) Committee in hopes of making school a safe and inviting place for all.

“MAST Academy is not the place for you to exhibit discriminatory behavior or behaviors that violate anyone’s civil rights,” Dr. Collman-Perez said. “And if those behaviors should occur, the Code of Conduct and Magnet Agreement are followed to the fullest extent, and those students will be exited from MAST Academy.”

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About the Contributor
Kamilah Gurdián
Kamilah Gurdián, Editor in Chief
Kamilah Gurdián is a senior at MAST Academy. As of 2023, she is starting her third year as a student at MAST at the age of 17. She used to attend iPrep Academy North during her freshmen year, but wanted to attend MAST since she was in Grade 5. Along with her, her younger brother who’s in Grade 7 attends MAST as well. She a first-generation immigrant in America and her mom is from Colombia and her dad is from Nicaragua. She is interested in math as a future career and takes multiple math classes.
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    Bruce BrownMay 10, 2023 at 1:11 am

    It’s good to see that MAST Academy is taking steps to address discrimination and intolerance on their campus. It’s important for all students to feel safe and welcomed at school.

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