Last week Memorial High School in Houston was at the center of controversy when photos of white students dressed up for “thug day” went viral.
Several juniors and seniors have since spoken with BuzzFeed News about how tensions at their school have increased in the wake of the incident.
During spirit week at Memorial High, students were invited to wear a jersey from their favorite team on “jersey day.” However, student Rachel Goodwin, 17, revealed that since 2015, students unofficially called the day “thug day” and would often come to school wearing cornrows, du-rags, fake tattoos, fake gold teeth and basketball jerseys.
Frustrated by the sight of students flashing gang signs and appropriating Black culture, Goodwin shared photos of her classmate’s social media posts from the day.
"From as early as 2015, the kids have been dressing up in offensive costumes," Goodwin told BuzzFeed News. "The kids wear du-rags and cornrows to be 'thuggish,' but those things are not thuggish. They are cultural and part of people’s everyday life."
Although Goodwin thought her tweet would "finally change things" and encourage socio-cultural awareness at her school, her tweet only stoked threats, bullying, and more fear among the Black students at Memorial.
Goodwin has received messages telling her to kill herself and threats to remove the tweet. One person even shared her home address on social media as a scare tactic.
As a result of the death threats she’s received, Goodwin was given permission by Memorial High School officials to stay home for the remainder of last week.
Senior Alexis Ofori, who is one of Memorial’s few Black students, told BuzzFeed News she was "pissed" when she saw her white peers dressed up for “thug day.”
"I was upset last year too [but] I thought I should keep my mouth shut ’cause I'm the only black kid and I didn't want to cause anything," Ofori told BuzzFeed News.
While Ofori does not blame the administration for students’ actions, she does believe there is a serious lack of education and conversation about cultural appropriation at her school.
"It was surreal to see trust-fund babies with prison tattoos," she said, adding, "[They] consciously looked up a Mastering Cornrows 101 video, or walked into a black hair salon, full of people with different experiences from yours, sat down, and thought you belonged there — that those braids were yours because you paid for them."
Senior Kelsy Meza, 18, said she always wondered, "How did they connect a jersey to this? Why did they have to go so far as to get cornrows done for this day?"
Meza also revealed that when she attempted to confront her white classmates about the day online, the situation only grew worse.
"I felt like I couldn’t go back to class. I didn't feel safe," she told BuzzFeed News. "After I said my opinion, they were kind of laughing at me. I felt like they were going to laugh at me in class."
When it comes to the teens seen in the photos, several of them have also received death threats and been afraid to return to school.
"The students in the photos are very angry...everyone’s talking about it," Ava Lahijani, 17, told BuzzFeed News. "But it hasn’t changed anything."
Last week, officials of Memorial High School released a statement to the Houston Chronicle saying they’ve taken action against the students in the photo.
"While the majority of rising juniors followed the approved dress theme on Tuesday, any instance of an inappropriate or offensive dress violation will not be tolerated. Students found to be in violation of the Student Code of Conduct and dress code will be given a consequence," a rep for Spring Branch Independent School District said.
The district has not elaborated on how the students were disciplined.