The meeting between students from Steamboat Springs and Battle Mountain high schools was a productive step toward eliminating the perception of racial intolerance among some students at Steamboat Springs High School.
In fact, we would encourage the school administration to pursue such interaction on a regular basis to help students here better understand and appreciate the perspectives of their peers in other communities, particularly those that are more diverse than Steamboat Springs.
The meeting between Steamboat and Battle Mountain students took place last week in Oak Creek. The meeting was arranged in the wake of allegations that players on the Battle Mountain football team were subjected to harassment, including racially charged comments, from Steamboat students during and after a football game Oct. 8 at Steamboat's Gardner Field.
Battle Mountain coach Pat Engle made the allegations in post-game comments and in a post-game e-mail sent to the Steamboat Springs School District and a number of other organizations, including the Colorado High School Activities Association, which appointed a mediator to work with the schools.
The allegations were particularly stinging for Steamboat Springs, which endured a string of incidents last year in which racist and threatening graffiti was found on the walls of the boys bathroom at the high school. A black student who was a target of the graffiti later appeared before the Steamboat Springs City Council to discuss the issue. School officials think the individual responsible for the graffiti was identified and punished.
Fair or not, the graffiti incident combined with the Battle Mountain allegations created an unfavorable perception of Steamboat Springs High School, its students and our community.
That's why the response of Steamboat school administrators has been encouraging. More than two dozen football players were interviewed. Videotape of the game was reviewed.
When Engle could not provide jersey numbers of players who allegedly made disparaging remarks, calling into question the credibility of the allegations, Steamboat officials could have washed their hands of the incident. To their credit, they continued to investigate the incidents, despite a serious lack of evidence.
Most encouraging, they helped organize last week's three-hour meeting. Eleven students from Steamboat Springs High School, which is more than 95 percent white, met with 10 students from Battle Mountain High School, which is more than 40 percent Hispanic. Students talked openly with each other about the alleged incident and about other issues they face as teens. The meeting certainly did not heal all of the wounds between the two schools, but the students who participated acknowledged they have greater respect and understanding for each other.
"It was pretty much a learning experience for both (schools)," said Steamboat senior Daniel Coloccia, a member of the football team. "Now, we need to get the word out to our school and community about how racism affects people."
The incidents at Steamboat Springs High School, if true, involve only a few students. They demonstrate, however, how the actions of a few can negatively effect the school and the community as a whole.
It is commendable that school officials have taken the steps they have. It is essential that they continue to take such steps in the future. In a community such as Steamboat that lacks diversity, it is critical to send a consistent message that racist attitudes and behavior are abhorrent and will not be tolerated.