After racism allegations at football game, Santa Ana and Aliso Niguel high schools engage in dialogue

Students from Aliso Niguel High School and Santa Ana High School share their experience talking about issues stemming from a football game where students from Santa Ana were met with pro-Trump political protesters and chants of “USA…USA” during a workshop called, “Walk In My Shoes” Friday, Nov. 16, 2018 at Cal. State Fullerton. (Photo by Michael Fernandez, Contributing Photographer)

The OC Register, November 16 2018

By Deepa Bharath[email protected]

Aliso Niguel and Santa Ana high schools made national headlines in September, but not in a good way.

Santa Ana High School’s principal Jeff Bishop posted on social media that his students were insulted and offended during a Sept. 8 football game at Aliso Niguel High School when students chanted “USA…USA” when their team won and holding up “Trump 2020” signs and campaign posters.

On Friday, Nov. 16, more than two months after this local incident was held up as the example of how a polarized political climate had spread its tentacles into school campuses, students from both high schools came together to talk about how a football game got them thinking about perspectives, racial stereotypes and sensitivity.

They shared their experiences at the 30th annual Walk in My Shoes youth conference at Cal State Fullerton hosted by OC Human Relations, the nonprofit that also helped facilitate a meeting between students from both schools at UC Irvine on Oct. 30.

Starting Conversations

Shaulyn Barban, a senior at Santa Ana High, said walking into that room for the meeting, he had expected a contentious debate.
“As we started talking, it became clear to us that this was a misunderstanding,” he said. “They were celebrating America Day just before Sept. 11. It was being done in that spirit.”

Barban and others were also told that the “Trump 2020” posters were put up as a joke.

“I believe them,” he said. “It is unfair to brand an entire school racist just because the actions of a few might have made us uncomfortable.”
Audrey McKeon, Aliso Niguel’s ASB president, said she felt responsible for the controversy.

“I just felt sick and horrible about it all,” she said. “Our goal for that night was to show our patriotic spirit. We made posters that said ‘We love red, we love white, we love blue.’ What I realized later that we didn’t see how it would look from the other school’s point of view.”

And that was exactly what she learned during the dialogue at UC Irvine, McKeon said.

“This was not about blaming each other or getting defensive about something that clearly offended someone,” she said. “This is about listening, learning from what happened and moving forward.”

The word “sorry” was uttered a number of times by students from both schools, but no one felt the need for a formal apology, McKeon said.
Students from Aliso Niguel expressed remorse for failing to be sensitive to the visitors’ feelings. Barban said he and others from Santa Ana High thought this issue could’ve been simply resolved without getting dragged into social media.

“We were all sorry that things happened the way they did,” McKeon said. “But being in that room also showed us that in the end, we were all just kids — talking.”

Meeting Face to Face

Alison Edwards, executive director of OC Human Relations, said she reached out to the high schools’ administrators soon after the incident volunteering to set up a dialogue.

“We just facilitated the meeting,” she said. “We didn’t tell them how to do it or what to feel. We just made sure all voices were heard.”

Edwards said students “took the ball and ran with it.”

By the end of that three-hour session at UC Irvine, friendships were formed and kids were exchanging Snapchat and Instagram information, and talking about staying in touch and continuing the conversation, McKeon said.

Oscar Santos, a senior and member of Santa Ana High’s band, said he was frustrated when he saw Trump campaign posters at the Sept. 8 football game.

“What was supposed to have been a friendly game turned into a political event,” he said. “But our dialogue shows that communication can solve a lot of misunderstanding.”

And, he added, social media often can’t do what direct, face-to-face communication can accomplish. Social media often makes things worse, he said.

“The important thing is getting to know the real person instead of making assumptions or jumping to conclusions,” Santos said.
Alyson Shon, a senior at Aliso Niguel High, said she is of Filipino descent, but didn’t quite understand the kind of effect a Trump poster might have on a young Latino person.

“Trump is our president,” she said. “But I see why they were offended. I can now see why we shouldn’t have turned this into something political.”