Authored by: Grace Coleman and Eden Conner
Harvard-Westlake’s mission statement says that we are a community that lives with integrity, so what are the consequences for those who don’t? In recent weeks, @wokeathw, an Instagram account led by members of the Harvard-Westlake (HW) community, was praised by political figures as well as news organizations, despite the problematic anonymity and the animosity it has created.
The content of the page often attacks students and teachers directly, rather than engaging them in conversation, which is not acting with integrity. Despite this, President Rick Commons only referred to this account vaguely in a March 12 email without mention of consequences, and the account continues to make posts.
@wokeathw first posted on Sept. 7, 2020. The account’s bio describes @wokeathw’s mission as: “Documenting the self-destruction of an elite private school. Led by concerned students, parents, faculty, & alums.” Additionally, they have a link to a google form in their bio, which they say is for students, parents and faculty to use any time their political views feel violated.
The account has gained attention from various news sources since September. More recent news coverage came from Bari Weiss in a City Journal article titled “The Miseducation of America’s Elites,” as well as Fox News, The Atlantic and Newsweek. Prominent figures like Ted Cruz, Ann Coulter and Mike Pompeo retweeted Weiss’ articles. Pompeo’s tweet included a call to violence, saying “be a pipe hitter.”
Following the coverage, the account gained a couple hundred followers, as well as attention from students and teachers regarding the content they post.
Though the account often takes a right-wing slant and we may disagree with their political opinions, arguing about whose beliefs are “more correct” will not get us anywhere, a point clearly proven by the very tactics the account uses. So, we would like to take “politics” (as in Democrats vs. Republicans) out of the equation and focus on the true problem the account creates: an unsafe environment for every member of the HW community.
@wokeathw, in multiple situations, called out specific students and teachers, and cyberbullied them without regard for their feelings or privacy. In a recent survey conducted by HW Spectrum, many students shared their concerns with the way the account goes about posting.
“It’s honestly disappointing that people would badmouth the school through a social media platform and not bring up their concerns with the school themselves,” an anonymous student wrote. “Speaking out and criticizing the school on social media will only bring attention to the matter and not bring much change.”
One member of HW Spectrum shared how the account’s bullying tactics had scared them away from writing about topics they were passionate about in fear of getting called out.
“After seeing Chronicle members’ personal Instagram accounts being shouted out by @wokeathw, I began to limit myself in the types of articles I was writing,” they said. “I felt as though the freedom to express myself was taken away when a group of people began cyberbullying others on social media.”
Not only has the account called out students, they have also shared emails sent from teachers and teacher profiles.
“My art teacher, Ms. [Zuñiga-West], has been called out,” a student shared. “Ms. ZW is a wonderful teacher, mentor and person, and I was insulted on her behalf that anyone would speak badly of her.”
Because of how students have been named and targeted, some students fear speaking up in their class. One student explained the fear they now experience before sharing an opinion in class.
“@Wokeathw can sometimes make me think twice about speaking my opinions in class,” the student shared. “I’m concerned that if I express a progressive opinion, I’ll end up in an article retweeted by Ben Shapiro.”
Some students also reported similar occurrences at HW that the account portrays, but some of these students likewise take issue with how the account has approached the topic.
“I feel what they are saying happens at HW is true, but the way they spread the word through instagram was wrong,” one student shared. “I can relate with these people, they are not lying about what happens at Harvard Westlake. I think the people throughout this account should be more focused on improving what they think should be improved. If they want views that are leaning towards the right, they should voice their opinion to the administrators instead of creating an anonymous instagram where it is easy to say and show things out of context.”
Many teachers at HW have dealt with being called out by @wokeathw and others have watched their colleagues and students be torn down by the account, which has resulted in teachers fearing for their safety.
“I felt threatened; it seemed like a step on the road to doxxing, as if online harassment were about to become in person harassment. It made me afraid to share antiracist material in my class. I didn’t stop, but it made me feel afraid for my safety.”
One teacher’s response echoed a question many of us are asking: As students, we join the HW community and are expected to live by the core values of our school mission statement, but what about the adults?
“I’ve just been to a diversity council meeting where they asked us to spend 20 minutes deconstructing the school mission statement and I wonder, where do we expect these values to lie? In the student body only?”
HW’s mission statement champions four values that member’s of the community live by. Community. Excellence. Integrity. Purpose beyond ourselves. When we opened our acceptance letters, we entered a community, a place of inclusion and academic freedom. These values must continue to be upheld, and not just by students. The more hate and dissent we breed within our school, the farther away we get from our communities’ founding principles. One teacher echoed this statement, sharing the importance of creating an inclusive classroom environment.
“Overlaying the narrative with such political language politicizes the work we do,” one teacher said. “When the talk moves in this direction, it is no longer discourse, it is simply discord, calling for walls (rather than bridges) to be built between us. An inclusive education is not about politics; it is about compassion.”
We live in a time where social media dictates so many of our opinions and thoughts. We urge everyone to consider the harm they may be causing others by tearing them down on a social media platform to suit their need for content. We are all human beings, and especially in a time as politically polarizing as this, we need to work together to create a positive environment for all.
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So many of the responses that we received from our survey felt important to share with the community. We are publishing the responses to give further context and give more of a range of viewpoints regarding @wokeathw. We have compiled them into two documents, which are linked below.