St. Teresa’s Academy administrators disciplined students this month after pictures shared with school staff showed them at a party with a swastika made with beer pong cups.
And for many parents, students, teachers and alumnae who learned of the incident this week, disciplinary action for the students involved was not severe enough for an incident some felt represented a hate symbol.
The images depict a group of girls posing in front of a table with beer pong cups arranged in the shape of a swastika. The swastika is left-facing, an inversion of the right-facing swastika appropriated by the Nazis.
At least one of the images, sent to The Star, appears to be a screen shot of a picture shared on the social media app, Snapchat, where users can post pictures and videos for their friends that disappear in 24 hours.
One of the pictures is captioned, “Girls night!”
The party occurred off school property and after school hours, St. Teresa’s Academy administrators and board of directors said in a statement that was sent to parents on Monday.
“We investigated the underage drinking as well as the potential for racial discrimination,” the statement said. “We also involved the KC Police Dept. Internal and external investigations concluded that this is a case of inappropriate and unlawful underage drinking.”
St. Teresa’s Academy president Nan Bone responded to a request for comment from The Star by email.
“We wish to be clear,” Bone said. “St. Teresa's Academy condemns racial discrimination in all forms. We stand for inclusion and never waiver in our principles. Those who know us, know STA is an inclusive community where young girls of all backgrounds thrive.”
Bone said she could not elaborate on details regarding disciplinary action because of privacy reasons.
News of the incident traveled rapidly among alumnae circles, particularly in online groups devoted to certain graduating classes.
Alumnae Maddie Summers and Kathleen Pointer told The Star that the students involved received an in-school suspension, called a “reflection” day. Four additional sources told The Star the same information.
As of Friday morning, four people who did not want to be named told The Star that a teacher was reprimanded after trying to speak to at least one involved student about white supremacy and the hateful symbolism of swastikas. The Star was unable to confirm this.
More than a dozen people who spoke to The Star said they hoped for more severe repercussions for an incident many called “racist,” “bigoted” and “hateful.”
Summers, an alumna who graduated in 2016, said she recalls a student being suspended for bring an e-cigarette to class. Other alumnae, many of whom asked not to be named, told The Star that students had been suspended or expelled for off-campus drinking or uniform-related infractions in the past.
“As far as I’m concerned there is a big difference between bringing an e-cigarette to class and posting racist, bigoted pictures,” Summers said. “I am embarrassed and ashamed of these girls’ actions.”
Pointer, who graduated from the school in 2007, said other graduates she has been in touch with wondered why the school didn’t speak out about the incident sooner.
“It’s disheartening to see the school not respond more strongly and more openly. I would hope that parents of potential students and potential students could look at St. Teresa and see it being a safe space,” Pointer said to The Star.
“But when a school doesn’t respond strongly to students supporting hate symbols, I would imagine a lot of students, parents and potential students wouldn’t feel safe.”
On Thursday, a St. Teresa’s student posted an essay about the “troubling” normalization of swastikas she has observed in Kansas City.
“Somehow, swastikas are still popping up in America, even among my teenage peers in Kansas City,” Julia Kerrigan wrote.
“Scrolling through Snapchat on my phone this summer, I saw a classmate had edited the symbol onto her selfie. A little horrified, I privately messaged her to take it down, please. I was met with the flippant response, ‘It’s just a joke. Calm down.’
“This, sadly, was not the last time I would have to message a peer to take the symbol off of their social media.”
Similar incidents have received national attention in recent weeks.
A private school in Atlanta expelled a student, suspended five others and barred two from extracurricular activities after pictures surfaced of them playing a Jews vs. Nazis beer pong game.
In St. Louis, the Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School also expelled students who used derogatory and racist language toward African-Americans on Snapchat.
St. Teresa’s is a private Catholic school for girls in Kansas City. It was founded in 1866. Here is the full statement released to parents on Monday:
The St. Teresa's Academy community was challenged this past week in a student incident. We wanted you to be aware of the occurrence and what steps we are undertaking. Because of privacy and legal issues involved we are unable to report every detail. However, in the interest of transparency and in learning from this occurrence, we are reporting what we can.
▪ The beer drinking game involved the placement of cups in a sequence resembling a hateful symbol.
▪ Upon the incident being brought to our attention, STA leadership undertook an internal, as well as external investigation. We investigated the underage drinking as well as the potential for racial discrimination. We also involved the Kansas City Missouri Police Department.
▪ Internal and external investigations concluded that this is a case of inappropriate and unlawful underage drinking.
▪ After careful and complete review by the STA senior administrative team and in accordance with school policies, the students involved were disciplined.
STA is committed to providing a respectful and inclusive learning environment for our students. As such, the Academy is rooted in strong Christian values and embraces a culturally, economically, ethnically and racially diverse student body, all with diverse perspectives and experiences. We constantly strive to promote civil discourse, understanding, and appreciation of these differences, which is vital in an increasingly diverse and global society. When there is disruption to this inclusivity in our learning environment, it is appropriate for the Academy to take responsive action. Our hope is that, as our mission states, “profound love” in action can lead to unity and reconciliation. We are ardent in attaining a safe and quality educational environment for all of our students. We are committed to providing our students the best educational opportunities we can while balancing justice, mercy and reconciliation.
This story has been updated from an earlier version.