“Students were traumatized; Some were even brought to tears.”
As students in one North Carolina high school were headed back to class last August, they were forced to participate in a demeaning “diversity inventory” which required them to answer personal questions about their gender, sexuality, religion and financial well-being and those of their neighbors in an effort to make them aware of their respective privilege.
The disturbing assignment occurred in a 10th grade English class at Heritage High School in Wake Forest. Teacher Melissa Wilson asked her class to fill out a “Diversity Inventory” worksheet which asked the teenagers to reveal highly sensitive and personal information.
The worksheet was formatted as a grid. Students were first asked to fill out information on their own “gender,” “race/ethnicity,” “age,” “sexuality,” “ability,” “religion,” and “socio-economic status.” Then they were asked to provide this information for “most of my close friends,” “my teachers” and “my neighbors,” among others.
In case simply writing down this personal information wasn’t enough, Wilson then asked her students to go and stand under signs that corresponded to their reported sexuality.
The North Carolina Values Coalition reports that “Students were traumatized” by the exercise and “Some were even brought to tears.”
“At this morning’s meeting, one parent said that her student had been experiencing PTSD from the incident,” the report continues. “Another student didn’t attend school on Friday, and is so scared to return to Wilson’s classroom environment that they told their parent they hoped the hurricane would distract everyone from this incident. Another parent’s child Facetimed them in the middle of the classroom to tell them how uncomfortable they were with the assignment. Another student had a friend who had recently shared very private information about themselves to a select number of their peers, and went white when the teacher asked students to now stand and reveal their private identities.”
“We also learned that this was not a once-time incident. Ms. Melissa Wilson apparently has given this assignment in the past,” the NCVC reported.
Parent Dina Bartus described the effect that the assignment had on her son. “He actually broke down and started crying because he said, ‘I felt so uncomfortable, but felt so on the spot that I had to do it.’ He said the pressure was just incredible, and my son doesn’t cry easily, so it really really bothered him,” the mother described.
Bartus shared a photo of the assignment on Facebook and it quickly went viral.
The teacher also added her own commentary to the assignment. “When some kids were kind of hesitant to do it she [the teacher] said, ‘Hey, it’s OK because I used to be a Catholic and now I’m an atheist and I’m bi-sexual,’ Bartus added. “So, needless to say, my son was a little shocked that this was happening in what’s supposed to be an English class.”
The mother emailed the school principal to demand that her son be removed from Wilson’s class. She had to contact him twice before she received a response.
“It’s hard enough going to high school without having your teacher call you out and lump you into a category — and not a category like ‘do you like football or baseball?’ A category of, ‘who do you want to have sex with?’ That’s unacceptable,” Bartus said.
After numerous parents aired their concerns, the school released a statement noting that “the principal reviewed the activity and resource and directed the teacher to discontinue the lesson immediately.”
“The Diversity Inventory worksheet in question is not a district-provided resource. We will continue to work with educators on how to effectively lead important conversations connected to identity, culture, and other sensitive topics as appropriate,” the statement continued.
Melissa Wilson, the teacher who forced her students to complete the diversity inventory, was suspended without pay from her job for five days, but has now returned to teaching students.
Parent Dina Bartus doesn’t think these consequences were sufficient. “I don’t think she belongs in the classroom, or at least with minors,” she said.