“We All Have a Beating Heart”: Coginchaug Students Walkout to Protest Discrimination


The crowd at the beginning of the walkout, being addressed by Talbert-Slagle (Photo by Zach Infeld)

Shortly after the bell rang for Coginchaug students to go to 5th period on Friday, April 29th, many students did not go to class: instead, they walked out of the building to protest the recent rise in discrimination in the district. 

Junior Julia Talbert-Slagle, the lead organizer of the walkout. (Photo by Zach Infeld)

Junior Julia Talbert-Slagle, who organized the walkout, said that, “I understand that I am white and I cannot experience racism and I will never be able to experience racism, but that does not mean I can look at these things which are happening in my district and cannot say that it’s wrong: because I can and it needs to be done.” 

Senior Madalena DiPentima, reading a letter submitted by an anonymous student, put the racism into perspective. “People from other towns have heard about RSD13’s racist incidents. RSD13 has only 1,300 kids in the entire district, which is about the same amount of students [at] Middletown High School alone.” 

Students went through the doors to the front of the building, where a speaker and podium were set up. Around 150 students walked out, as well as members of the Coginchaug faculty. Multiple members of the Board of Education, as well as Superintendent Doug Schuch, were in attendance. However, Talbert-Slagle had other words.

Students carried various signs during the walkout, which were made in the days prior. (Photo by Zach Infeld)

“Silence is compliance,” she said. “[The Board] are letting this go on and they are saying this is ok because they are not saying it is not ok.”

“[Coginchaug] is now a hostile environment”, she said due to the increase in discrimination.

“What you are saying is hurtful and not funny,” freshman Rebecca Ebunola said. 

The blame was also directed towards school policies, including the curriculum. Talbert-Slagle mentioned, “The way we learn about racism is that it ended with the Civil Rights Acts of the 1960s. That is not when racism ended: it became systemic.” 

Education was also a topic mentioned by multiple other speakers. Freshman Wasim Chater, who is muslim, said that, “When 9/11 is mentioned or we hold a moment of silence, I get stared at. It is not something that is funny. I do not believe what they did on 9/11 was right, so if you are staring at me believing I supported it, I did not.”

Freshmen Charity Skinner (left) and Rebecca Ebunola (right) (Photo by Zach Infeld)

“Not all Muslims are terrorists, not all black people belong to gangs,” Ebunola said. “You cannot define people based on how they look or what they wear on their head.”

Senior Ava Carusone, who is mixed, said that while she is not racially profiled, she still feels it. “My mom is brown and my whole family is from South America, and I get to say this is ingrained everywhere.” 

Throughout the event, multiple students were laughing and disrespectful of the purpose of the event. “I just wish there was not a lot of laughing,” Ebunola explained, “just more listening than joking about what was happening.”

“We know this [walkout] is not going to end racism”, senior Hailey Curry said. “This is to bring awareness and hopefully have people realize how severe this really is and help those who are going through it.” 

Discrimination in the district has been rebrought into the limelight with events at Strong Middle School. In regards to this, the Board of Education has invited Calvin Terrell, an educator and founder of an organization regarding social progress, to speak with students and families on May 3rd. The invitation was met with backlash from many in the town, with a special Board of Education meeting to potentially cancel his engagement occuring on April 27th. The meeting did not complete those goals. 

Freshman Wasim Chater addressing the crowd (Photo by Zach Infeld)

“It is ok to be curious [about minorities and their beliefs], but it is not ok to make up things. We are all human, we all have a beating heart and that [discrimination you say to us] hurts,” Chater said.

Interim Principal Debra Stone said in a ParentSquare message about the walkout that, “I believe that the students learned about peaceful rallying, choice, and ways to express themselves appropriately with the help of trusted adults.”