Last week, Shelley High School in southern Idaho celebrated homecoming with the Russet Olympics, stirring controversy with photos of students celebrating in what appeared to be blackface.
Included in the Russet Olympics is color coordination by grade level, where each grade is asked to wear one of the school colors: red, white and black.
Seniors wore black this year, and photos of the festivities were posted to the school’s Facebook page, where some seniors had their faces or full bodies covered in black paint. Since the photos were posted, the school has received backlash from the incident.
KeeLeigh Sherei, a Black graduate of Shelley High School, said full face paint isn’t allowed and she was unsure why the school’s body paint rules weren’t enforced.
“We've had rules against painting your whole face and I don't really know why those didn't get enforced. I've never seen the full body done like that,” Sherei explained.
She said she was worried for the students in the photos and didn’t think it was done intentionally.
“I am really scared for the students that did this because they’re high school students, we all do such stupid, stupid things. And I'm not angry at them. I really think that this was done out of ignorance,” Sherei said.
Sherei hoped this incident will provide a learning experience for everyone involved.
“I think that one of the staff members should have stepped up and asked them to fix that. And I think that instead of just being angry at these kids, we need to have more education on like, actual black history…there just needs to be something more than slavery and segregation. It needs to be a little bit deeper than that,” Sherei said.
While Shelley High School hasn’t outlined steps they plan to take in regards to the incident, the school released the following statement on Monday:
The goal of Russet Olympics is to promote unity, comradery, and school spirit. We welcome and invite anyone to attend and experience, first hand, the inclusive unifying environment that takes place at this annual event. It is unfortunate that some are mischaracterizing this year's event. We would ask that you please not use this positive, unifying event as a reason to divide. It is never our intention to offend or demean. We will utilize this as a learning opportunity. We look forward to finishing this challenging year focusing on and supporting our students.