Utah Student Accused of Wearing KKK-Like Hood at School Rally

Another race story gets spun as a case of individual choice rather than institutional accountability.

By Thoai Lu Apr 05, 2011

Recently, we noted how UCLA’s administration was being applauded for its response to Alexandra Wallace’s infamous YouTube rant against Asian students on campus. Clearly, officials at a high school in Utah weren’t taking notes.

Two weeks ago at Alta High School’s recent spirit rally in Sandy, Utah, a student reportedly wore a white pillow case on his head, complete with holes. Of course, the stunt looked frighteningly similar to a KKK costume. The student, who’s white, is accused of mocking a biracial student, Larz Crosby, at the rally by yelling "white power!" Crosby later wrote about the ordeal in a blog post:

While walking across the gym floor to find a seat, a student wearing a white hood with holes for eyes was jumping around. When his friends saw that I had noticed they began pointing and laughing. I immediately demanded that he remove the hood. He then approached me and began dancing in my face and taunting me. I snatch the hood and threw it behind me and his crowd of friends became very displeased with this. I found a seat, finally, and sat down next to a friend. She, her sister and her friend all asked me if I was ok. I told them I was ok, and then began to contemplate how I was going to handle the situation…I felt numb! I had no idea that the KKK was part of my high school spirit bowl.

Supporters of the accused student say there’s a simple explanation: the school’s annual spirit rallies require each class to wear designated colors. According to local news outlet KSW:

During this year’s assembly, the parents of the student accused of racial discrimination say their son was chanting "white power" with members of the junior class in opposition to the students cheering "black power." 

The student accused in the incident has a hearing with the district Tuesday that will determine if he will be expelled from school. His parents said that he has tried to apologize several times for what they called his "bad decision." Meanwhile, the principal and vice principal of the school have been put on paid leave during the investigation of multiple "serious incidents." Tuesday night, the Canyons School district sent out an open letter to the Alta community, which said, "We strongly and unequivocally prohibit and condemn all forms of racism, hatred and discrimination…"

Other students quoted in the KSW piece think that the administrative action has been overblown. Still, the district has asked for more police presence to be at Alta High Tuesday so students would feel safe. 

 Jeanetta Williams, president of the NAACP Salt Lake branch, said the organization is satisfied with the school district’s efforts, which have uncovered other incidents that she declined to detail to local reporters.

But what’s truly disheartening about this case is the way in which it’s being framed. If left up to students and parents, it’s another story of one individual who simple made a bad decision. While you can certainly applaud the school’s efforts to take action, it’s defensive posture instead of one that ensures incidents like this don’t happen in the first place. Unlike UCLA’s response, there’s been little discussion of institutional changes in curriculum.