Scandal and debate have surrounded a former student body president at the nation’s most expensive prep school who was reportedly forced to resign from her position after apparently mocking her white peers.
Maya Peterson, 17, a former student leader at the Lawrenceville School in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, said that she wanted to create a “truly unified and diverse” community when she was elected president last year.
But after she posted a photo of herself online in March impersonating male students at her school, the opposite dynamic unfolded, the Daily Mail reported.
Peterson wore boots, a Yale University sweater and held a hockey stick in the controversial picture, saying the pose was one taken by a typical “Lawrenceville boi.”
A black student body president was forced to resign after mocking white students. http://t.co/iPRtkzUyke
— Gawker (@Gawker) June 30, 2014
According to BuzzFeed, this image of her fellow male students took aim at them as being both white and Republican. She also added hashtags like #romney2016, #confederate, and #peakedinhighschool.
Both students and faculty found the image offensive and in March, just three weeks after she posted it on Instagram, officials reportedly told her she would be disciplined if she chose not to resign as student body president.
“You’re the student body president, and you’re mocking and blatantly insulting a large group of the school’s male population,” one commenter wrote on the photo.
Peterson, the school’s first black, female student body president, responded with a message that likely only heightened tensions.
“Yes, I am making a mockery of the right-wing, confederate-flag hanging, openly misogynistic Lawrentians,” she wrote. “If that’s a large portion of the school’s male population, then I think the issue is not with my bringing attention to it in a lighthearted way, but rather why no one has brought attention to it before…”
Despite this response, Peterson also said the photo was only a joke meant to respond to critics who had complained over her senior photo — a picture that featured her and 10 friends raising their fists in a “Black Power” salute.
These scenarios, though, only accounted for a portion of the tension that had unfolded, as students had also complained about her in the past. One student sent photos of Peterson smoking marijuana to the dean. And last winter, an anonymous source sent half-naked photos of Peterson to the entire freshman class.
There was also a Facebook post Peterson purportedly wrote after Obama’s election that sparked controversy. It read: “As a black and Latino, gay woman in the United States of America, today is a momentous day. I’m sorry to all the rich white men who have failed to elect a president that endorses their greed.”
The back and forth between the student body president and her detractors created a rift that served as a divisive distraction, though Peterson has defended herself.
“I understand why I hurt people’s feelings, but I didn’t become president to make sure rich white guys had more representation on campus,” she said of the controversy, according to BuzzFeed. “Let’s be honest. They’re not the ones that feel uncomfortable here.”
A lengthy BuzzFeed article recaps all sides of the debate, including those who have come to Peterson’s defense, claiming that Lawrenceville has plenty of racial tensions and that the former president did nothing wrong. Some African American students even told BuzzFeed that white students call them racial epithets.
Peterson graduated in June.