A black student body president at America’s most expensive prep school was forced to resign over what administrators say is a racist photo.
Maya Peterson, 17, was elected student body president of The Lawrenceville School in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, this past school year, making her the prestigious prep school’s first female black student body president. Peterson is also an out lesbian, so many minorities at the school that is primarily filled with white males felt that she could be a voice for them.
Back in March, Peterson posed for an Instagram photo in which she held a hockey stick and wore a Yale sweatshirt in a jab at the rich white males who dominated the schools demographic. Along with the photo, Peterson used hashtags like “#romney2016,” “#confederate,” and “#peakedinhighschool.”
When school officials became aware of the photo, it was decided that Peterson either needed to step down from her position as student body president or face disciplinary action. Many students at the school were offended by Peterson’s photo, but Peterson herself staunchly defended what she says was a joke.
“You’re the student body president, and you’re mocking and blatantly insulting a large group of the school’s male population,” one peer commented on the photo.
“Yes, I am making a mockery of the right-wing, confederate-flag hanging, openly misogynistic Lawrentians,” Peterson responded. “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…”
This is not the first time that controversy has surrounded Peterson’s presidency at America’s most expensive prep school, which costs $53,000 a year to attend. At the time of her election, many students felt that the results were not honest and asked that the votes be released. Some students tried to smear Peterson’s reputation, with one student sending photos of the teen smoking marijuana to school officials and others fabricating racist, anti-Sikh tweets from Peterson to get her in trouble.
“There was too much controversy around Maya,” said a fellow student named Rob. “We didn’t really want a president who breaks school rules. It isn’t a representation of who we are.”
The Instagram photo that Peterson posted was in direct response to controversy that erupted around her own senior picture, which featured the student body president with 10 black friends holding up their fists as a symbol of “Black Power.” Many other students complained about her senior picture, and in a lighthearted attempt at retaliation, Peterson, who graduated this month, says she posted the Instagram photo.
“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. “Let’s be honest. They’re not the ones that feel uncomfortable here. I’m not saying what I did was right. But it wasn’t racist. I was just calling those guys exactly what they are. And Lawrenceville is the type of place where those kids are idolized.”