“This march is not just about Marlon — it is for the Black community as a whole,” a committee member of the Black Student Union told the crowd of protesters Friday to address Marlon Anderson’s controversial termination.
Led by the BSU, Madison West High School students came together outside of the Madison Metropolitan School District Doyle Administration building, calling on the district to amend policy and consider the context of the incident.
President of the Madison Board of Education Gloria Reyes stands with the students’ pleas for more education surrounding the use of the N-word on campus, active push-back against the implications of a zero-tolerance policy and giving them an opportunity to be a part of administrative decisions.
Although Reyes agrees with the district’s decision to follow protocol and use “best-practices” to remove Anderson, she sees this incident as an opportunity for the board to look more closely at the implications of existing policies, especially regarding cultural context.
“It is different when a white person says this term than an African American,” Reyes said. “This is an opportunity to move forward aggressively on what's the best way to deal with this.”
Students who protested explained they did not necessarily want to abolish the zero-tolerance policy regarding the use of racial slurs on campus, but rather add steps to it, allowing the administration to look at all parts of a situation before making a final decision.
“We felt they should have looked at the context more of why he [Anderson] said it, and what was happening at the time,” said Tevenee Johnson, a committee member of the BSU. “That is what we came here to shed light on to the board.”
Many students felt upset Anderson was fired, calling him “an asset” to the school and a mentor who instilled “confidence and motivation” in students.
Johnson, who attends church with Anderson, called him a “father figure.”
“When you walk into West, nine times out of ten the first person you see is Marlon and he makes it his business to come and speak to you to make you feel important,” Johnson said. “It was hurtful to see [the district] just put somebody off to the side like that, someone that did so much for West — not just as a security guard. It was his life.”
Reyes, along with interim Superintendent Jane Belmore and board member Savion Castro intend to expedite Anderson’s appeal process. Seven other faculty members have been removed due to the district’s zero-tolerance policy over the last few years — none of which were people of color or granted appeals.
Savion is visiting West High School this week Tuesday and Thursday to participate in meetings with the BSU and facilitate conversations to achieve a “sense of justice.”
“I think what happened at West was a very vulnerable moment between a Black man and a Black student, during which the word was used,” Castro said. “Historically, spaces of education have disciplined black students out of those spaces for simply being who they are — language is a part of that — and we do not want that to happen anymore.”