In the current social climate, what is going unseen at Free State?


Gabrielle Wheeler

Standing in front of Freddy the Firebird for the last time, Brittany Swearingen says goodbye to Free State at semester, making the decision to complete her high school education through the Lawrence Virtual School.


It seems our safety should be indisputable—of course we are safe at school, and when we aren’t we always have someone to turn to for help. The reality, however, is that students in our school are constantly forced into environments where we are hated for aspects of ourselves that are viewed as different, and the administration does nothing about it.

Our generation has a unique perspective. Many people, equipped with the privilege of being able to, believe bigotry is in the past. Those people may think that because their favorite show has a Black man character (who is underwritten and discarded), racism doesn’t exist. Or that because there was a white lesbian in a movie once, homophobia is cured. Others of us are not so fortunate to be blinded by feigned diversity. Many are forced to be around our oppressors without any opportunity of escape. No matter the ignorance and hatred we face outside of school, our learning environments should be untainted, and it is the duty of our administration to uphold this sentiment.

In my two and a half years at Free State, I have had been the recipient of a smorgasbord of hate-fueled experiences . My first year here, an upperclassman told me that gay people were unnatural and that he was disgusted by our existence. I was shocked by the blatant homophobia. I asked him what he meant and if he knew that his statement was homophobic. He immediately, clearly and loudly screamed profanity at me in response to my “accusation” of his homophobia. A teacher who was friends with this student heard him clearly, but swiftly resumed class without question.

My sophomore year, I had a racist boy harass me for a full semester on indisputable issues such as whether or not Black people actually face oppression, or that we shouldn’t joke about the brutal murders of masses of people. This boy took every opportunity to yell at me personally in multiple classes. I went to the administration half a dozen times for help getting out of the situation. My counselor did nothing. The student was only sent to the office when he shouted at my English teacher Amanda Frederick who attempted to explain he was being racist and ignorant. He was never held accountable for the weeks he spent yelling and interrupting me. This student continues to menace women of color in the classroom and has not faced consequences.

The lack of support from my peers, teachers and administration has left me feeling broken. More days than not I have gone home in tears. There was nothing I could do to escape this harasser and I was entirely powerless. ”

After this incident, I learned a lot about our student body. So many people who had never had any issue with me were suddenly hating me on the bases of my identity. They were outraged by the fact that I had the audacity to stand up for myself. Even more than those against me were the students who claimed to be supporting me. But while I was being hounded and mocked, all of my self-proclaimed allies chose to do nothing. Everyone is free to define ally as they choose, but to me, those voices that chose to remain silent while I was intimidated in the classroom day after day for months didn’t express solidarity when I needed it.

The lack of support from my peers, teachers and administration has left me feeling broken. More days than not I have gone home in tears. There was nothing I could do to escape this harasser and I was entirely powerless. This was my first clue our administration doesn’t have the interests of all their students in mind and was the first time I felt unsafe at Free State.

This year, as a junior, I joined the Gay Straight Alliance. I thought that after all my experiences of being harassed, I would find a sense of community. I was unfortunately incorrect. My experience in this non-intersectional club left me more broken than before. As a member of the group, I tried to do my best by participating and helping fellow members. This included sending trigger warnings of things fellow LGBT students might be exposed to, including warnings against homophobic content in school theatrical productions. These productions featured numerous jokes and microaggressions geared towards gay people, like an instance of laughing at the prospect of someone’s non-heterosexuality, or the use of HIV/AIDS terminology as a joke.

The response to my warning was that I had defaced a performance that, in my opinion, deserved to be called out. The accuser acknowledged all of these problems and still decided they weren’t valid. The club president claimed to “appreciate” my trigger warnings, but then immediately disregarded them and decided to promote the homophobic production.

The resulting action from members of GSA was to out my identity as a member (thereby outing my sexuality) and mock me publicly in school and at performances of this production for my “over-sensitivity.” By standing by and letting this happen without protest, GSA was complicit with those who outed me and shared my private messages. There is no excuse for inaction in this situation. I spoke with the GSA sponsor about being outed and the compromised safe space, but the only action taken, to my knowledge, is a reminder to not out members, laying blame on me for not making it clear I was not out to everyone. In typical LGBT spaces, secrecy is assumed to preserve the safety of members. I left the group when it became clear that they weren’t respecting intersectional members.

This year, I had two teachers act hatefully toward me. The first treated me unfairly in the classroom by ignoring me: specifically, my requests to use the restroom. She would also mock the content questions that I asked. This went on for weeks because of reasons unknown to me. I switched out of the class mid-quarter to avoid further harassment.


When the teachers of a school are acting unfairly towards specific students, it is is the duty of the administration to fix such issues.”

The second teacher, with whom I have never had personal interaction, decided that I was personally attacking them when I chose to call out the not-so-subtle microaggressions that I witnessed, and they wanted to attack back. This teacher presented numerous homophobic jokes in their productions, specifically the fall Black Box production, Love Awkwardly. This show also promoted sexist narratives such as “girls that hate girly girls, and feel superior because of it” which furthers the ideology that girls who don’t conform to typical roles are somehow superior to those who do, which pits women against each other.

When I brought these items to the attention of enough people that some actually started to care, the teacher became vicious and demanded that I not be allowed near them or their classrooms. When the teachers of a school are acting unfairly towards specific students, it is is the duty of the administration to fix such issues.

Many people do not believe my stories of bullying at Free State. Those people reflect only on their own personal experiences and thus do not comprehend how truly dire the situation can become for the less-privileged and targeted students. To ignore the lives of people in different circumstances dismisses that person’s entire struggle. When students are faced with acts of hatred, we need to be able to rely on our teachers, administration and fellow students to rectify and remove the situation. As too many of us have seen, when it comes to prejudiced bullying we do not have our school to rely on.