What happened when Denver student journalists wrote about racist taunts at soccer games

Denver student journalists writing about racist taunts at high school boys’ soccer games sparked a change that could help prevent similar incidents in the future.

On Tuesday, students and staff from Bruce Randolph School and DSST: Byers met to draft a “fan policy” that will be read aloud before each school’s sports games. It says fans should be “positive role models,” and that antagonistic or hateful behavior won’t be tolerated.

The meeting happened after two student journalists at Bruce Randolph wrote a story about several incidents of racism and taunting, including one at a November boys’ soccer playoff game between their school and DSST: Byers, a Denver charter school.

According to the story, a fan yelled, “Don’t worry, at the end of the game, Trump will round up these boys!” More than 90 percent of students at Bruce Randolph identify as Latino or Hispanic. President Trump has overseen a crackdown on immigrants without legal status, and promised to build a wall between the United States and Mexico.

It wasn’t the first time racist comments were directed toward Bruce Randolph students at sports games, nor are they the only Denver athletes who have experienced racism.

A few days after the story was published in mid-November, the principal at Bruce Randolph told the student journalists to take it off the website of the school newspaper, called The Paw Print. The reason, Principal Melissa Boyd said in an email to Chalkbeat, was “to help our students make their story better.” She said it was the first time she’d ever pulled a story.

“Because I was out of town, I never saw a final copy of the piece and was not able to approve it,” Boyd said in the email. “Also, there has been a lot of efforts made related to the resolution of this issue that were not included in the story.”

The DSST: Byers principal credits the students’ story for catalyzing those efforts.

“It helped highlight the impact of that incident and the depth of that impact and got all parties to a point to say, ‘Yep, we need to address this now and we need to do something concrete about it,’” said Elin Curry, principal at DSST: Byers.

Gisselle Tarango is one of two students who wrote the story. She was at Tuesday’s meeting where the fan policy was drafted and said it was helpful for her and the Bruce Randolph athletes to hear from the DSST: Byers athletes that they too were disappointed in how the fan acted.

“I felt like that meeting was really helpful because that way, we had the two points of view and how both teams felt,” said Tarango, a 17-year-old senior.

Afterward, Tarango said her principal told her that if she revised her original story to include the details of the meeting and the new fan policy, the principal would read and re-publish it. In her email to Chalkbeat, Boyd said the students “are in the process of finalizing their story right now, and it will be back on The Paw Print website soon.”

Tarango is happy about that possibility. In her two years writing for the newspaper, she said this was the first story she felt had the potential to improve student life.

Tarango said she knew the story was potentially controversial, but she decided to write it anyway. She had been at the games where this year’s incidents occurred. She and her co-author emailed the principals at the opposing schools for comment, including Curry.

“Even though we knew it was going to bring a lot of problems, I felt like the right thing was for people to know the world we live in,” Tarango said.

Curry said she was proud of Tarango for contacting her, and for writing the story. DSST: Byers officials already knew about the Trump comment and were discussing how to address it, she said. “When Gisselle reached out, it was like, ‘Yep, this is terrible and super disappointing, and we want to do whatever we can to move forward,’” Curry said.

“There was never a moment where I was upset about the article being published,” Curry added. “That is good journalism. It is about somebody telling their story.”

Tarango said she’s hoping to have the revisions done this week. And she already has an idea for her next story. The topic? Good sportsmanship.