A senior at James Madison Memorial High School in Madison, Wisconsin, is circulating a petition to drop Madison's name from the school because it makes the black student body feel "more than unsafe."
Mya Berry launched the Change.org petition last week and wrote:
"My school is named after a slave owner. James Madison, the 4th president of the United States was an owner of over 100 black slaves. The significance of this name in association with my school has a negative effect on memorials black students. The lack of representation I feel in this school makes me feel more than unsafe. I do not feel supported by the majority of staff at memorial, especially considering the fact that I've gotten called n word multiple times, along with having an individual threaten me by telling me they would lynch me.
In my classes when discussing race, I'm told my perspective is just an opinion, and not anything valid to take into consideration. My school has had dress up days such as pimps and hoes, and the girls varsity soccer team had cornrows in their hair, as if my culture is some dress up day, and something to joke about.
So my thought to leave you with is: with all the injustice I and others face in James Madison Memorial High School, do you truly think it's appropriate to glorify a man that enslaved my ancestors? With the education disparity between black and white students being a huge concern in the Madison Metropolitan School District, and if you truly care about black students, you would change the name of Memorial high school."
To date, the petition has received around 1,500 signatures of the requested 2,500 signatures.
In an interview with the Capital Times, Berry said that she never previously reported any instances of race-related issues within the school because "“I didn’t feel safe."
She said that she wasn't even sure who would address her issues within the school, and with the school's moniker.
"Now that I’m a senior and I’ve become more comfortable speaking out, I’ve told more people about it,” she said. “I feel like faculty overhear injustice and they know it’s wrong. Some of them don’t speak up, and that adds to the unsafe environment.”
When asked by the Capital Times whether or not there had been racially motivated issues in the past, the school's principal, Jay Affeldt, claimed that no specific issues were ever brought to his attention by Berry.
Affeldt said, "I have met and will continue to meet with Ms. Berry and other student leaders to discuss how we can best move forward to have this dialog as a larger school community in a safe and healthy way. Also, I do not believe the specific incidents mentioned in the petition were ever reported to school staff, and I am trying to learn more about these incidents from Ms. Berry."
"It's important to me that every student feels safe," Affeldt said, "and we take all reports of hurtful behavior very seriously."
Berry told the Capital Times that she doesn't believe the former slave-owning president should be "glorified."
“We don’t want this name to be glorified as a representation of us,” she said. "I hope that the Memorial community becomes a more safe environment for black students and students of color."
The enrollment at James Madison Memorial, which opened in 1966, ranges from 1,700 to 2,100.