CHICAGO — Students at Marist High School are upset after a viral video showed white students kneeling during a Spanish song at the homecoming dance.
A Latinx student, junior Elizabeth Pacheco, recorded the moment and posted it on social media. The video showed students taking a knee during the Spanish version of Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy Breaky Heart.”
“If you love our food-ethnic fashion-and energy so much—why do you resent us?” Pacheco wrote in the video’s caption.
WGN blurred most of the video due to the age of the students.
A portion of the students said they felt disrespected when the white students took a knee during the song.
“How would you like it if we kneeled to your country music?” Pacheco wrote.
The video was posted two days ago and has since been viewed over 180,000 thousand times on Instagram. The student who recorded the video said she did so after some of those at the dance made racist comments about Mexicans as the song was being played.
“They started booing at us and saying really mean things and really disrespectful things,” Pacheco said.
The Marist student said no one was disciplined for their actions. Marist freshman Sopia Crespo said she was mortified after viewing the clip.
“I saw it and heard the backstory of what was going on – and when I heard students talking about the song and what they were saying about Mexicans in general,” Crespo said.
The high school’s officials responded to the social media post saying:
“We respect and foster diversity, equity, and inclusion for all and want every student to succeed by feeling valued, seen, and connected. We as a school promote cultural diversity and are providing professional development on cultural competency for staff and students.”
On Tuesday, about 100 students gathered in protest of Marist’s response to the controversy. Sophomore Nicholas Walker was among the group.
“Most of my friends, we feel like we’re being disrespected in a way, so we wanted to come out and show our love,” Walker said. “Marist isn’t like this. Marist brings people together, and what happened over last weekend was not how we want to represent ourselves.”
The group waved Mexican flags, held signs that read “Stop the Hate,” and danced to Latin music as drivers honked their horns in support. Marist junior Sean Grobarcik said he felt compelled to join the crowd, saying it was necessary to stand with minority students.
“I come from a place of privilege because I’m white,” Grobarcik said. “All my friends are Hispanic or people of color and I just want to support them, because their voices need to be heard too.”
Junior Esa Crespo told WGN she believes the school hasn’t done enough to address inclusivity.
“In school sometimes, I feel like I can’t be heard, and I feel silenced because the students don’t want to talk about it and the kids just make up excuses,” Crespo said.
The DJ of the event, Brian Stepanek, provided a statement that read:
The public needs to understand that these students have not had a school dance in over two years because of COVID. Because of this, their expectations of the music were very demanding to say the least. With 800 kids in attendance and only time allowed for 60 songs to be played, our DJs were constantly being heckled by the students to change up the tunes. It appears to us that this same behavior was observed several other times at this dance when the students ‘sat down’ to force our DJs to change the tunes. The opposite of dancing is sitting, right?
We can communicate a diverse variety of music was played that night. Basically, the students just wanted to control our DJs to change the song at that and other times. Here is the link to the Spotify playlist to validate this: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/6ZzGsYWqcHEDZE4BKzQHjf?si=0fddcec3c6e04d5c
The school also said they are investigating what happened at the dance and will address when it’s appropriate.