Welcome to the latest puzzle in my ongoing series, Eyes Open, inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and other civil rights protests.
The school year is beginning to wind down, and for many, thoughts have already turned to graduation and summertime and destinations beyond high school.
Unfortunately for some, even years later, systemic racism spoiled not only graduation and college plans, but followed them beyond the halls of high school.
In Mississippi, the school district of Cleveland was sued twice (once in 2017, once in 2019) by students who alleged that there were racial reasons behind them being denied academic achievements.
One case is detailed in today’s puzzle, but I can give you details on the other. Jasmine Shepard sued the district in 2017, claiming that she was named co-valedictorian with a white student with a lower grade-point average, denying her the title of valedictorian.
Shepard was not informed of certain options regarding class availability — something white students WERE informed of — and a clerical error awarded her “co-valedictorian” more points toward their GPA than were actually allowed.
The judge wrote, “There is no dispute that rank points were improperly assigned or that these improper assignments negatively affected Shepard,” but unfortunately, since the errors were deemed accidental and not intentional, it was the ruling of the court that this case didn’t meet the requirements of a civil rights violation.
The subject of today’s puzzle suffered similar treatment, losing out on scholarship opportunities after a dubious “quality point” system affecting students’ GPA caused her to lose out on the Salutatorian honor to a white student.
The school district claims there’s no conspiracy here, and that clerical errors were responsible for all of these problems, but that’s not good enough. College acceptance isn’t just too expensive, it’s also insanely competitive, and these mistakes (whether racist or clerical) still caused genuine, tangible damage to the potential futures of these young women.
Through bias or stupidity, they screwed hard-working students out of opportunities. And screwing people of color out of opportunities is absolutely a systemic problem, in this school district and many others around the country.
This may seem like a minor thing, but it’s just another in a countless chain of examples where these “small” errors contribute to a system that makes everything harder for people of color, no matter how diligent and dedicated they are.
In this country, every child is told if you work hard and keep at it, good things will follow. But that’s not always true, is it?
Today’s puzzle isn’t the cleanest crossword I’ve presented for Eyes Open, but it visually represents, however clumsily, what has been going on in this school district and others for too long.
I hope this puzzle serves to both engage you as a solver and encourage you to keep your eyes peeled for other ways we can reform school systems to better serve students of all backgrounds. The real world isn’t fair, but the school world should be.
[Click this link to download a PDF of this puzzle.]
If you have suggestions for more topics for me to cover in future puzzles, please let me know. If you’re a person of color and you’d like to share a puzzle of your own, or to collaborate with me on a puzzle, please let me know.
If you’re a member of the LGBTQ community, and you have ideas, please let me know. If you’re a trans person, or a non-binary individual, and you feel underrepresented in puzzles, please let me know.
I would like this to become something bigger, but hopefully, this is at the very least a start.
Thank you for reading. Thank you for standing up, speaking up, and fighting the good fight.
Support LGBTQIA+ people.
Black lives matter.