After the Madison West High School Administration fired Security Guard, Marlon Anderson, on October 17th, 2019; hundreds West High School students marched outside of their classes on October 18th, demanding that Mr.Anderson get his job back. Security Guard Marlon Anderson was fired after an African American student used a racial slur against him, and he repeated the word when telling the student not to use it. In response, his job was taken away.
What media is now referring to as the Madison Metropolitan School District’s ‘Zero Tolerance Policy’ when regarding racial slurs, is the reason that Mr. Anderson lost his job in the first place. According to the 2019-2020 Behavior Education Plan, staff and students who use expletives targeting a specific group of students or people will be subjected to just punishment. This policy seems incredibly subjective, and that is exactly what it is. According to West High, Marlon Anderson deserved to lose his job. The District’s zero tolerance policy for employees using racial slurs is missing the large argument that ‘Context Matters!” Mr.Anderson reports. “I was simply trying to defend myself, after a disrupted student unleashed a number of obscenities.”
In response, hundreds of students – including dozens of West High teachers and staff – marched from the high school on Regent Street to the Madison Metropolitan School District’s Doyle Administration Building on Dayton Street near the Kohl Center.
Protesters on October 18th, called school officials to reexamine the tolerance policy, which they report can be unfair to racially targeted and underrepresented groups. During the walkout on Friday, Noah Anderson, son of Marlon Anderson and President of the West Black Student Union, explained that there is a “big difference between a slur and a statement.” He argued that, “A slur is directed towards someone to be derogatory. What my father did was he told, he took a teaching moment as an African-American male to a younger African-American male why he shouldn’t use the word and why not to refer to himself that way.”
For many the walkout was an act of rebellion against a specific wrongdoing, but for the West Black Student Union, the walkout is the beginning of an effort to make the community more inclusive. “There has been tension in the MMSD for a while, and my dad [Marlon Anderson] just had to be a sacrifice for it. We’re going to get it fixed – especially with all of the support we see today,” Noah reports.
Claudia Mena, a West High School student and one of the organizers of the protest, explained that the purpose of the walkout was not simply to get Anderson’s job back. “We’ve seen a lot of racism not just at West, but all around Madison. And so this is really starting to say that racism needs to end in Madison.”
In addition to being a catalyst for change, the protests got Marlon Anderson his job back. On Friday, October 18th, MMSD Superintendent responded to the protests with the statement thanking the West High protesters, “I want to thank our students for coming today and for engaging in a conversation with us. We support [our] students when they disagree with us and challenge us to do better.” She continues, “The use of racial slurs will not be tolerated when said by anyone in any school setting; no matter the circumstances.”
Since, Superintendent has rescinded the decision of Anderson’s termination. He will be placed on paid administrative leave and his transition plan back into West is being negotiated.
By Maggie Di Sanza