A senior at Princeton High School in New Jersey has been suspended for submitting a yearbook photo with the N-word in it.
Jamaica Ponder, who is African-American, was suspended on June 9, just days before her graduation, after school authorities were offended by the photo she submitted to the yearbook in January, reports CNN.
The photo shows Ponder and group of friends posed in her home. In the background is a painting by her father which she describes as a "big, black canvas in my basement, screaming 'N****R RICH,' in dark acrylic paint and chopped up dollar bills." She wrote that in Multi Magazine, an online publication she created "to provide young creatives with a platform in which they can fearlessly display their artful lives."
As she explained in the article: "My father’s art served its purpose without me even noticing and that’s how I ended up in the principal’s office this morning when I should’ve been doing my math homework."
Ponder didn't notice the imagery in the background of the yearbook photo until Princeton High School Principal Gary Snyder called her into a meeting. "It was not my intention to have this imagery or the part of the N-word in the yearbook," she told CNN.
Although she apologized and had a long conversation with Snyder, she was called back to his office and suspended the day after writing about the incident in Multi Magazine. Another student was suspended for submitting a digitally-manipulated collage of his friends combined with images of Nazi soldiers, Ponder said.
Snyder gave a statement to CNN:
As the principal of Princeton High School, I want to state that we unequivocally oppose the use of offensive language, images and symbols. I also want to emphasize that we do not punish students for speaking out against racism, biases and other injustices. Just the opposite, we hope all of our students will take a stand against injustice and we applaud those students who actively do so.
... While we encourage our students to have thoughtful dialogues and challenging academic discussions about historically offensive words, images and symbols, we strive to do so within safe spaces of classroom discussions and with established ground rules. The yearbook does not provide the context for these words and images, nor does it allow for the honest, back-and-forth discussion that is essential in productively addressing complex and sensitive issues.
Snyder also sent a letter to parents apologizing for "insensitive, offensive and provocative words and symbols of racial bias, bigotry and anti-Semitism" that were included in the yearbook. "A high school yearbook is a keepsake for all students and for the entire school community. The words and symbols that were used in the yearbook are neither appropriate or acceptable," he wrote in the email.
Ponder's attorney parents, Rhinold and Michele Ponder, are appealing the school's decision. They have filed an appeal with the superintendent of schools and plan to file a complaint with the Princeton Civil Rights Commission.