SAN FRANCISCO – Administrators at Raoul Wallenberg High School attempted to rig freshman student elections to inject “diversity” into the student leadership, and it blew up in their face.
Wallenberg freshman James Ortiz told the San Francisco Examiner that school officials pushed him to run for student council because of his Hispanic last name, though he identifies as white. And when the 15-year-old didn’t win, they attempted to unseat the newly elected class vice president so Ortiz could replace her.
“They were, like, bribing me into being on the student council,” Ortiz said.
Initially, when school officials encouraged Ortiz to run for vice president last September, he thought it was because they believed in him, or saw his potential. He was excited to make posters, and stickers and he gave a speech to court his classmates, but another student ended up winning the race.
“He was very excited when he came home from school and said ‘my teacher has nominated me to run for vice president,’” Ortiz’ mother, Christina Martinez, told the Examiner. “I thought they saw something in him: leadership or merit or good grades.”
She later learned that all school officials were after was Ortiz’ last name. The majority of the school’s student population is Asian, as is the student government. But principal Cheryl Foster and vice principal Zaia Vera wanted to “encourage more diversity in our student leadership,” Foster said, and they suspended the student election results to install a more multicultural freshman class leadership.
For some reason, school officials did not fiddle with election results for the junior or senior class, according to the news site.
Ortiz said he was called into the principal’s office numerous times after the elections and school officials attempted to persuade him to fill one of the student government roles. Martinez told the Examiner that assistant principal Vera explained what was going on.
“She said to me, ‘Mrs. Martinez, you could understand as a fellow Latina what we’re looking for here,” Martinez said, adding that she’s not Latina. “We only have Asian girls run for office and we want the Wallenberg website to show not only Asian girls.”
Ortiz said that on his third trip to the office to discuss the elections, the white student who was voted in as vice president was also there, and officials tried to get the girl to resign so Ortiz could fill her role.
Ortiz said he refused to participate.
“It was basically a thanks, but no thanks,” he said.
Students who were actually elected to office by their peers seem to think the attempt to engineer diversity in student government is misguided.
“Our school is predominantly Asian, so if Asian student run for student government, well, that’s inevitable,” Elisa Yeung, junior class treasurer, told the Examiner. “People who are of a minority race, for example, if they don’t run maybe it’s because there are less of those students at our school.”
Yeung suggested to simply let students run for office on their own merits.
“You should learn the skills to be able to say I want to run for this and here’s why, be able to tell people you should vote for me because of this, this and this,” she said. “I think that’s a great way for us to learn as students.”
Parent, Teacher, Student Association spokeswoman Teresa Moeller told the Examiner school officials held a meeting last week where Foster allegedly admitted that officials rigged the freshman class elections.
Moeller said Foster told students and parents outraged by the ordeal that school officials “learned a lot from this, from children like (Ortiz), who didn’t want us to install them into posts they were not elected for.”
Unsurprisingly, students shot down a proposal to allow school officials to appoint student leaders in all grades, Foster said.