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New Chapter of SPLC’s ‘Sounds Like Hate’ Looks at a Vermont High School Grappling with Racism

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) released the second chapter of its newly launched original podcast — Sounds Like Hate — an audio documentary series about the dangers and peril of everyday people who engage in extremism, and ways to disengage them from a life of hatred, today.

The second chapter, called “Not Okay,” documents the challenges of teachers, administrators, students and family members at Randolph Union High School in Randolph, Vermont as they grapple with two issues tearing their community apart: whether to remove a mascot some say bears a disturbing resemblance to a hooded Ku Klux Klansman charging on a horse and whether students could fly the Black Lives Matter flag. 

Sounds Like Hate was granted exclusive access to the school. Randolph students share their personal stories of harassment and bigotry and how symbols of hate in school have caused serious distress and concerns about safety, and their parents and families talk about their fears for their children.

“Our school was dealing with what much of the nation’s schools have been dealing with, but at a more local level,” said T. Elijah Hawkes, principal at Randolph Union High School. “There had also been some very public incidents of racism, menace, violence and threats in our school. 

“A public school in a democracy must be a place where contemporary problems are confronted and solutions are sought. If it’s important, it can’t be extra-curricular – it needs space in the school day. If it’s important, it can’t be just a committee – it needs faculty meeting time and the engagement of all. This is a matter of priorities and commitments, and school leaders need to be clear about these. The dialogue never stops, people should always be invited to talk and to engage, and it takes time.” 

Teachers and administrators at Randolph Union took action after seeing an uptick in racial symbols and rhetoric at the high school. School officials made the decision to take the lead in changing the climate. 

Listen to this chapter now.

Sounds Like Hate is available on all major podcast platforms, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn and more. You can also stream it at SoundsLikeHate.org

“The incidents that took place at Randolph Union High School in Vermont reveal two powerful and disturbing truths about our country: Racism and hate are not just confined to certain places but happen in towns across the country; and young people are on the front lines as we grapple with systemic racism and its impact on our society,” said SPLC President and CEO Margaret Huang. “The stories shared in this chapter reveal the experiences that Black and brown students have in schools that should be welcoming and inclusive learning environments. As a parent, hearing the students’ stories is painful. But it is critical to listen to them if we hope to secure a safer environment for our children.”

Part two of “Not Okay,” which will be released on Sept. 21, digs deeper as Randolph Union High School struggles with whether or not to change its mascot and as demands to confront systemic racism move out of the halls of the high school and into the streets of the town. 

Season one of Sounds Like Hate, produced and hosted by award-winning journalist-producers/filmmakers Geraldine Moriba and Jamila Paksima, takes listeners into communities facing extremism. They speak with people affected by hate, including a woman featured in the first chapter who left the extremist movement. 

The third chapter, “Baseless,” will be released in October and takes listeners inside the inner workings of a hate group through exclusive, secret audio recordings. “Baseless” tells the story of a reporter who infiltrated the hate group and learned about their methods of recruiting, the ways in which they encourage violent, terroristic behavior and an international network prepping for the collapse of America.

“The politics of hate are visible in every aspect of life, work and health,” said Paksima. “We are in the center of an unprecedented moment of hate in our world. There is an increase in hate. It is expressed openly by leaders, violently by extremists, and secretly by individuals, inside families, schools, or groups. It is why this story is important in this moment in America. Radicalization is a process and it can be interrupted by educators. The reality is also educators are just now learning how to effectively confront extremist views and warning signals of violence in schools. With so many lives on the line, shouldn’t social and racial justice education be a teaching priority in all schools large and small in our nation?” 

On Wednesday, Sept. 16, the SPLC will host a panel discussion to discuss “Not Okay.” Panelists will include SPLC Senior Fellow and Executive Director of the Western States Center Eric Ward, Randolph Union High School Principal T. Elijah Hawkes, Teaching Tolerance Senior Writer Cory Collins and Sounds Like Hate Producer and Host Jamila Paksima.

RSVP to the panel here.

Learn more about Sounds Like Hate and stream it here.