Indian Student Denied Diploma for Wearing Feather to Graduation

A weird story from rural Alabama.

Alabama-high-school-student-denied-graduation-after-wearing-tribal-feather

I was befuddled at this Raw Story report (“Native American student denied high school diploma for wearing tribal feather“) :

A high school graduate in Alabama is being denied her diploma after being fined $1,000 for wearing a feather reflecting her Native American heritage.

“I don’t think it’s fair at all,” 17-year-old Chelsey Ramer told WPMI-TV. ”I feel like its discrimination.”

Ramer, a member of the Poarch Creek Band of Indians, wore the feather while taking part in the graduation ceremony at Escambia Academy High School in defiance of school policy forbidding “extraneous items” from being worn without school permission.

The school sent a contract for graduating seniors to sign before the May 23 event, but Ramer told the station she never signed it. Escambia is now withholding her diploma until she pays the fine.

“About two months ago, me and the other Indian seniors from the graduating class asked our headmaster if we could wear the feathers on our caps,” Ramer told Indian Country Today Media Network. ”She told us ‘no’ and that if we did, she would pull us off the field.”

What high school has the authority to fine students—let alone $1000?!–and withhold their diplomas? And why the heck do they have a “headmaster,” anyway? And how did she accumulate enough credits to graduate high school and not have been broken of “me and other Indian seniors”?

Well, it turns out that this is a private school whose “mission is to provide a solid foundation through a quality well-rounded educational experience in a safe, Christian environment, supported by a fully accredited academic program that is dedicated to the students’ intellectual and personal growth and development.” In which case, I’m hard pressed to be overly concerned about it.

Were this a public school, it would come across as bureaucratic silliness at best and  anti-Indian bigotry at worst; neither would be tolerable for a government institution. At a private academy where parents voluntarily send their children for “personal growth and development” in “a Christian environment,” I’m inclined to chalk it up to a rigorous zeal for uniformity and conformity.

Sorry kid.

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. anjin-san says:

    Racism in Alabama is “weird”?

    How do you figure?

  2. James Joyner says:

    @anjin-san: I see zero evidence of racism here. We’ve got a white-looking kid with a white-sounding name attending a private Christian school who wants to deviate from the norm. There’s simply no evidence she was discriminated against.

  3. Matt Bernius says:

    Well, it turns out that this is a private school whose “mission is to provide a solid foundation through a quality well-rounded educational experience in a safe, Christian environment, supported by a fully accredited academic program that is dedicated to the students’ intellectual and personal growth and development.” In which case, I’m hard pressed to be overly concerned about it.

    Actually, in my mind this makes it somewhat* worse. There is a long history of American Indians and First Nations people (the current Canadian term) being forcefully separated from families and “mainstreamed” into national culture through private/parochial boarding schools. The result was a total alienation from their cultural identity as native peoples.

    The flip side of this is that Ms. Ramer’s family apparently chose for her to attend this school. That said, if she’s in a particular poor area of Alabama, reservation or public education options — or lack there-of — might have a lot to do with the decision to go with private education.

  4. CSK says:

    Atmore is near Mobile. It appears to be fairly prosperous; it has the first public high school to be established in Alabama. There’s another private Christian high school in addition to Escambia. The Poarch Creek Band of Creek Indians, to which this young woman belongs, has its headquarters in Atmore.

  5. wr says:

    @James Joyner: “There’s simply no evidence she was discriminated against. ”

    The law, in its infinite majesty, prohibits equally both Indian and non-Indian students from honoring their native American heritage.

  6. anjin-san says:

    @ James

    Please reconcile these statements:

    “About two months ago, me and the other Indian seniors from the graduating class asked our headmaster if we could wear the feathers on our caps,”

    white-looking kid with a white-sounding name

    There’s simply no evidence she was discriminated against.

    Aside from going with “the girl is lying” I don’t see how you can.

    I am also unimpressed with the schools high-minded mission statement. I churn out stuff like that for a living. The actual people working in the actual school might not be quiet so virtuous. I really don’t know. But now that the can of worms has been opened, we can’t simply take a statement like that at face value.

  7. rodney dill says:

    Was she discriminated against for modifying her graduation cap and gown? Most definitely, as I presume would anyone that hung bells, whistles. a rosary, Mardi Gras beads, or painted “Yippee” in white on the top of their academic cap. Was she racially discriminated against.? Only if a celebrations of Native American heritage was disallowed and others modifications (for heritage or other reasons) were approved.

    Still pretty nasty treatment for something I would consider a fairly modest celebration for graduation (for heritage or otherwise)

  8. stonetools says:

    Alabamans gotta do their thing. Not surprising, really. Luckily, she can leave the whole benighted state behind now.

  9. Anderson says:

    Well, if she was under any illusions as to whether self-professed Christian educators in Alabama are, by and large, assholes, I’m sure she’s been corrected.

    Way to promote the faith, boys.

  10. Doug Mielke says:

    Chelsey, your personal achievements, pride and family culture are much more important than a very bad call by school authorities.

    Welcome to the real world and stick to your best personal judgement. It will be one of the most important attributes you can have throughout your life.

  11. JKB says:

    So if she wasn’t so native American origin but wore a feather in her cap, would it be discrimination?

    It is only discriminatory if some are permitted extraneous decorations but others are denied. There is no evidence of that here. The Progs need to learn to discriminate discrimination from an equal application of the rules.

    I suggest the school look to see if they have a signed contract from her (assuming she was 18 at the time of signature), if not, just let it go.

  12. rudderpedals says:

    Oh she was just 17

  13. anjin-san says:

    @ JKB

    So if she wasn’t so native American origin but wore a feather in her cap, would it be discrimination?

    No, then it would just be stupid, which means it would make perfect sense to you.

  14. MarkedMan says:

    As long as government funds are not used in this school then they can go to ruin in any way they see fit. But a good court case with healthy damages might cure them of withholding a legitimately earned (and paid for!) diploma to enforce a disciplinary action. I hate to see everything go to the courts, but if we balance our inherent (and good) attitude of ‘keep the government out of our lives whenever possible” with “we need someway to settle disputes” then it means a lot of lawsuits.

  15. Argon says:

    Are they withholding just the diploma (a piece of paper) or are they also withholding certification that she completed high school requirements as set by the state of Alabama? The latter would be much more important.

  16. rodney dill says:

    @Argon: Whether diploma or certification, the post did say pending a $1000.00 fine. So its not like they’re holding it indefinitely because of the incident. From even public school they’ll withhold the diploma/certification if books are missing and not paid for or other fees have not been paid.

    Still $1000.00 is a pretty stiff fine. Though being a private school, the parents, on her behalf probably signed something that she would abide by their rules.

  17. EddieInCA says:

    Dr. Joyner –

    This is clearly racism. You don’t see it because you’re white. You don’t see the world through a racial prisim, like many of us are forced to.

    I walk into a restaurant in South Florida and immediately check, instinctively, as to how many people of color are in there. You don’t. Because in most, or all of the restaurants, you go into, you’re in the majority.

    I walk into a “bad neighborhood”, and I feel safer than you do. Because in this “bad” neighborhood, you’re the minority, not me. You’re the one that stands out. You’re the one that looks different.

    People who are white have no idea what it’s like to be of color in this country. It affects you every day. You don’t get stared at when you walk into the Armani section in Bloomingdales. You don’t have security watch you when you walk into Sports Authority. I make a very good living, and I’m followed in most high end stores I enter. I get pulled over regularly for no reason except for that I’m a person of color driving a Mercedes S500 in parts of town that my type isn’t supposed to be in.

    Many of you will say, “This doesn’t happen anymore.” or “Get over it!”. To you, I respectfully tell you to “Go Eff Yourself”. Deal with it for a week – in my shoes – and you’ll think differently.

    If this girl at the high school had been white, and had put a Dove feather on her cap, I doubt there would be an issue. It’s because of the Native American angle that this is a problem.

  18. anjin-san says:

    @ Anderson

    Well, if she was under any illusions as to whether self-professed Christian educators in Alabama are, by and large, assholes, I’m sure she’s been corrected.

    What was it Jesus said? Oh, yea. “Make sure you let them know who’s boss.”

  19. pcbedamned says:

    It is getting harder and harder for those of us outside of America to take seriously any more, the cries of “everyone hate us for our freedoms”. Especially when stories such as these seem to be more and more the norm (most notably in regards to LGBT issues, religion, and race).

    I personally do not feel she was discriminated against, but my Lord, what a ridiculous issue – particularly since the rez is nearby. My children are Native Canadian on their father’s side. Two years ago, my son was one of the representatives for his school on the Aboriginal Youth Leadership Committee for Quinte Region, and in High School he takes Native Studies courses. Hell, the public schools around here even hold “healing circles” in cases of conflict!
    I just don’t get why this is such a major issue.