Maya Peterson’s controversial photo on Instagram led to her forced resignation as the first female black student body president of the prestigious prep school Lawrenceville in New Jersey. The picture and her comments about white students at the school were deemed racially provocative and inappropriate.
Maya Peterson, 17, graduated this year from the prestigious prep school The Lawrenceville School, which is located near Princeton, New Jersey. It is the most expensive boarding school in the U.S. with an annual cost of approximately $53,000. The picture above sparked the controversy as Peterson dons a Yale University sweatshirt and LL Bean duck boots while wielding a hockey stick and a defiant gaze, thus making herself a “Lawrenceville boi.” She added hashtags including ‘#confederate,’ ‘#romney2016, and ‘#peakedinhighschool.’
According to Buzzfeed, which interviewed Peterson for their story, students at the school complained about her photo to the dean of students. It was three weeks later that the school administration informed Maya Peterson that she would have to resign as student body president or face disciplinary action.
Prior to the administration forcing her resignation, there had been the usual warfare on Instagram as people commented on the photo, and Peterson responded to the criticism, saying, at one point, “Yes, I am making a mockery of the right-wing, confederate-flag hanging, openly misogynistic Lawrentians. 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…’
Peterson had become the first black female in the history of the school to hold that position. In winning election the openly gay student had run a campaign of inclusion, reaching out to her fellow students of all backgrounds. She told Buzzfeed, “The younger kids told me they felt comfortable opening up to me in a way they didn’t with other people.”
In the aftermath of the controversy she told said of the controversy, she said, “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. Let’s be honest. They’re not the ones that feel uncomfortable here.”
But, as the article goes on to chronicle, this was not the first such controversy. Maya Peterson found herself in a battle zone for her comments after President Barack Obama was reelected in 2012. At the time, she wrote, “As a black and Latino, gay woman in the United States of America, today is a momentous day. I’m sorry to all the rich white men who have failed to elect a president that endorses their greed.”
Among the comments quoted in the article: “I’m gonna have to assume from your political beliefs and what you’ve said that you do not pay for your Lawrenceville tuition in its entirety. But do you know who pays for that? Yeah, that would be all those greedy white men who actually worked for their fortune, not relied on the government to support them. Just saying.”
Buzzfeed notes that Peterson’s parents paid for her tuition in full, thus defying that particular stereotype. For those who are curious to know more about Maya Peterson, she is active on Facebook.
The international attention the story has received has brought with it a renewed focus on the plight of students of color in the country’s boarding schools, and the difficulties they are facing as they find a climate of acceptance not always as favorable as we might all hope for. Lawrenceville was founded as an all white, all male boarding school and has only admitted blacks in the past fifty years. Women have been admitted less than 30 years ago, beginning in 1987.
Photos: Maya Peterson
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