Free Speech on Campus graphic

Florida teen faces disciplinary action after racist ‘promposal’  – April 23, 2018

Sarasota, FL

Noah Crowley, a high school senior in Sarasota, Florida, asked a fellow classmate to prom using a poster in April 2018. This “promposal” was met with massive backlash due to its seemingly racist message, and subsequently Crowley’s high school banned him from attending the prom and graduation.

Key Player

Noah Crowley was a high school senior at Riverview High School in Sarasota when he decided to ask his girlfriend to the prom using a poster with a clever message on it, as has become customary for many students around the United States. He posted a picture of himself holding the poster and sent it to his girlfriend on the social media app Snapchat. His poster’s message was widely interpreted to be overtly racist, and a picture of it went viral on social media.

Further Details

On April 23, 2018, Crowley used the social media app Snapchat to send his girlfriend a photo of himself holding up a poster that read: “If I was black, I’d be picking cotton, but I’m white, so I’m picking u 4 prom.” The caption underneath included two heart-eye emojis. A screenshot of the Snap was posted to Twitter, and it quickly went viral. Before long, it was picked up by news outlets such as Huffington Post.

Riverview High School responded to the viral post via an automated call to parents later that day. In the message, then-acting principal Kathy Wilks said that “Riverview High School absolutely does not condone or support the message conveyed in this post.” She explained that the incident provided an opportunity for greater learning about mutual respect in the school community.

The school district later announced it would be partnering with groups such as the Sarasota NAACP to engage students in training about racism and race. Its public statement read, in part, “Although this message is one student’s opinion, we take the matter of racial relations and school safety seriously, and we look forward to working with our students and these outside groups to have a meaningful and informative dialogue and expanded curriculum related to this important national topic.”

According to the Tampa Bay Times, Tracey Beeker, a spokeswoman for the Sarasota County school district, said the district would “host roundtable discussions regarding social inequalities and racism in hopes of providing students an open and safe place to speak their minds.”

Beeker also told The Washington Post it was “more than likely” that Crowley would face disciplinary charges. She pointed to a social media policy in place within the school district, which prohibits “using profanity, obscenity, epithets or other language that violates generally accepted norms of appropriate public discourse.”

Outcome

Student banned from prom and graduation

The day after his unusual prom invitation circulated online, Crowley released a statement apologizing for its message. He called it a joke, but acknowledged that it “went too far,” and said he understood he had offended many people. “Anyone who knows me or [my girlfriend] knows that that’s not how we truly feel,” he said.

His parents announced on April 25 that they had discussed an appropriate punishment for Crowley with school administrators. They mutually decided that he would not be allowed to attend any further school functions, including the prom or his graduation ceremony.

Racist promposal inspires others

At least two “copycat” promposals have been reported since Crowley’s went viral. A Missouri teen first replicated it word-for-word on April 27, and two students in Michigan did the same on April 30. The school districts to which each of the imitators belong released statements announcing that the incidents were being investigated, and that the students responsible for circulating these copycat messages would be disciplined according to school policies.

External References

Sarasota high school investigating student’s racist ‘promposal,’ The Bradenton Herald

Sarasota student makes racist prom proposal, Herald-Tribune

This teen’s racist prom invite was a bad idea. But a free-speech expert says it’s his right, The Salt Lake Tribune

This teen’s racist prom invite was a bad idea. But a free-speech expert says it’s his right, The Washington Post

Sarasota student, family apologize for racist ‘promposal’, Tampa Bay Times

Missouri Teenager Copies Viral Racist ‘Promposal’ Sign, The Independent

Michigan teens copycat racist ‘picking cotton’ promposal, Detroit Free Press

Prepared by Emma Vahey ‘20

Uploaded June 27, 2018