White Student Spits on Black Visitor at African American History Museum in DC

A middle school class trip from Connecticut was promptly removed from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture on October 11 after a student spat on a Black museum patron.

Shelton Intermediate School Principal Dina Marks claimed the student's actions were not “racially motivated.” Marks, who was with students during the class trip, said the unnamed male student spat from a balcony and hit a Black patron below, according to BuzzFeed News.

In a since-deleted tweet, the principal wrote, “It was an act of stupidity, disinterest, [and] immaturity, completely inappropriate, but I believe, not racially motivated against that person.”

After being ejected from the museum, students returned to their hotel rooms, Marks said. “Our kids are not bad people,” she wrote. “We are all pretty sad tonight.” Marks has since deleted her Twitter account.

Shelton Public Schools Superintendent Chris Clouet informed parents the class was ejected from the museum due to the student’s action in a Facebook post. Clouet wrote the action was not a reflection of “who our students are or who we are as a community.” The superintendent then claimed it was not the time or place to talk about consequences.

“But this is now, regrettably, a pattern of behavior that is disrespectful and does not serve anyone well — including the student who acted inappropriately and embarrassed himself and his school. Yes, we will deal with this at school,” Clouet wrote.

The superintendent asked parents to speak with their children “in an age-appropriate manner about our expectations of how we treat people: Black or white, elder or young, or anyone, a child (or adult!) may perceive as being different.”

Clouet told BuzzFeed News the student was sent home to Connecticut after the incident and that there would be “school-based disciplinary action.” He added, “But more than the issue of discipline is the issue of teaching and getting past this sort of episode. I think my job as an educator is to make sure we’re educating our children to live in a multicultural world.”

This incident is not the first time Shelton Intermediate has nabbed headlines for racist behavior by a student. According to the Connecticut Post, a student recently appeared in blackface in a Snapchat photo, prompting a protest rally led by Ansonia Valley NAACP President Greg Johnson.

Johnson told the Hartford Courant that the latest incident was not a joke, especially given where it occurred. The civil rights leader noted the student “didn’t spit on anyone at the Washington Monument or the Lincoln Memorial.”

“A total and complete lack of respect and one of the most degrading acts one can commit against another,” he said. “It’s an embarrassment not only to Shelton, but to Connecticut.”

In an interview with the Connecticut Post, Johnson said the school district has a “major problem” and must institute a zero tolerance policy on racism.

“You have not been proactive with these situations, but you react to the children of color who stand up to defend themselves immediately,” Johnson said, according to the newspaper. “This stops today, through cooperation or litigation. There will be accountability for the racist, vile environment that you all have allowed.”

Census data shows the Shelton community is 91.8 percent white, the Connecticut Post reported. Clouet told BuzzFeed News that 35 percent of students in the Shelton Public Schools district are children of color.

In 2017, visitors to the museum’s exhibition on segregation found a noose left on the floor of an exhibit less than a week after another noose was found hanging from a tree near the Hirshhorn Museum. US Park Police investigated the incident at the time and removed the noose.

Lonnie Bunch, the museum’s founding director, said in a statement that the incident “is a painful reminder of the challenges that African Americans continue to face.”

He added, “The noose has long represented a deplorable act of cowardice and depravity — a symbol of extreme violence for African Americans.”

David Skorton, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, condemned the incident as an “act of hatred and intolerance, especially repugnant in a museum that affirms and celebrates the American values of inclusion and diversity,” according to NPR. “We will not be intimidated,” he added in an institution-wide email quoted by Smithsonian magazine.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.