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What Happened When a High School Student Used the N-Word

What happened when a High School student used the N-word? It usually leads to expulsion. But it doesn’t have to. High school senior Rainier Harris tells of his experience as a Black student at Regis, an academically rigorous Catholic high school on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

Harris said:

I felt immense pride entering Regis, but also great pressure. ... I am no stranger to racist behavior. In middle school, I was targeted with it, as well as enduring classmates casually using the N-word. Any hope that this would be avoided at Regis was quickly proved wrong. Within the first two weeks there, a photo of me was shared around school by a white classmate; the caption referred to me as a monkey. At the end of my sophomore year, the school expelled a white student who … used the N-word with other white friends.

But when one of Rainier’s friends used the N-word in front of him on several occasions, the school took a different approach: restorative justice. This involves a collaboration between victim and offender. The process is uncomfortable and tedious for everyone involved, but it leads to a transformative result.

He concluded:

Administrators facilitated real dialogue between me and my main offender … We talked at length over his thought process, and he even sent me a message apologizing and telling me exactly what it was he did wrong and that my frustrations were valid. My former friend said, “I’m sorry, Rainier, I didn’t realize why what I said was wrong. I didn’t know it was racist.” It felt like progress, as if I actually made a difference in his life.

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