MILWAUKEE — Two Milwaukee Catholic high schools were not immune to the unprecedented, post-presidential election boiling over of emotion that is gripping the United States.
However, steeped in the teachings of the Catholic Church, Marquette University High School and Divine Savior Holy Angels High School used that emotion and its expression as an opportunity to build upon what they teach and the environments in which they teach.
“What transpired here was what was happening in the real world,” Dan Quesnell, principal of DSHA told the Catholic Herald Nov. 15. “People are wrestling with the results of the election.”
Noting that the “biggest challenge we faced was the fostering of emotions on social media,” he said the school used its monthly “Dasher Dialogue” on Nov. 14 as a place to discuss the question: “How do we move forward as a DSHA community?”
“This created an opportunity to talk face to face,” the principal said.
The dialogues normally draw 40 students, according to Quesnell. This one, which he described as “heartwarming, uplifting,” drew 300 students.
“There were different perspectives, but they were hopeful,” Quesnell said. “Young people care; they’re passionate.”
He said “nothing overtly racist, nothing derogatory” was expressed by DSHA students following the election.
“Students are trying to work through it – that’s what’s going on in the adult world,” Quesnell said, noting that the process at his school was taking place with “proper discourse.”
A Nov. 9 tweet by Johanna De Los Santos, a New York woman with no apparent ties to MUHS, stating Latino students at the school “were harassed today by white students with comments like ‘see you in Mexico’ and slapping trump (sic) campaign stickers on their backs/backpacks. Multiple reports.” set off what principal Jeff Monday described as “a firestorm on social media.”
“One student made an inappropriate comment in his class,” Monday confirmed for the Catholic Herald Nov. 14. “We haven’t been able to track any other incidents. There is no confirmation on students putting stickers on book bags.”
School administrators have met with the student, an underclassman, and his parents. The student will be disciplined, according to Monday.
“No one else has come forward; there is no new information on offensive actions,” he said.
The principal and Jesuit Fr. Michael J. Marco, MUHS president, met with each grade on Nov. 10 to talk about “who we are” as the Marquette community.
“The reports were the antithesis of what we hold as a Catholic school,” Monday said. “The students were very serious about these conversations.”
He said that prior to the election there were conversations with faculty members about the need for civil discourse in the classroom and instructing students on how to make informed decisions.
“This was done in the context of what the church teaches,” Monday said, noting the specific application to the social sciences and theology classes.
Each year MUHS has a theme. This year’s is: “Lead by example,” which has been at the forefront of Monday’s conversations with students.
“Our rhetoric can offend. As Christians, the words we use represent us as a people,” he said. “Rhetoric cannot divide us; it must respect and honor the dignity of the individual.”
In a Nov. 10 letter addressed to alumni, alumni parents and friends, Monday wrote about “inappropriate and hurtful” comments, as well as “inappropriate chatter on social media.”
“As a community that takes seriously our role in educating and caring for your sons, I want to reaffirm to you that we have zero tolerance for this behavior.”
He closed the letter, stating: “If you become aware of an issue relating to your son after you speak with him this evening, I ask you to call me so we as a school can respond appropriately. We want all students to be and feel safe when they are here.”