In a video posted to Snapchat, a group of students can be seen laughing as they hang a black baby doll from a tree.
A South Australian private school has promised to act on calls for greater cultural awareness training after a video was circulated showing students "lynching" a black baby doll.
The short video, which was posted to social media app Snapchat, shows a group of Trinity College students in uniform laughing as they use hat strings to tie the doll around the neck and hang it from a tree.
The students had been given a black and white baby doll as part of a classroom project, and hung the black doll from a tree in the video.
The video and the school's initial response to the video prompted a student of African background to start an online petition calling for punishment for racist actions, as well as greater cultural awareness training among staff and students.
The petition, started on Thursday by one of the school’s Year 12 students, Aballa Opio, has gathered over 6,000 signatures as of Saturday evening.
In response to the petition and media coverage, the head of the college Nick Hately wrote a letter to parents on Friday apologising and saying the school would implement greater education programs for students and staff.
The letter also confirmed that the students involved had been suspended “for property damage and bringing the College into disrepute”.
“Students involved in the initial incident wanted to reiterate that they did not act with racist intent. Some further acknowledged that now, with greater education, they understand why their actions are considered racist,” Mr Hately wrote.
“They understand how appalling, unthinking behaviour stemming from ignorance can be racism. Not having racist intent does not mean the impact is not racist.
“The College apologises to any student, past or present, if we haven’t done enough to educate or stamp out subtle, perceived, systemic or overt racism,” he added.
'Schools need to have anti-racism policies in place'
Ms Opio told SBS News that, while she was glad that the school appeared to be taking the issue seriously now, it was disappointing it required public pressure including media coverage to get a strong response.
“They only really took action when the media got involved. Without the media getting involved they would have kept telling me ‘this was not a racist incident’,” she said.
Ms Opio has since resigned from her role as a school prefect in response to the incident and how it was handled.
South Sudanese community member and anti-racism commentator Nyadol Nyuon said that schools, in general, appeared to handle issues of racism poorly at the “expense of migrant and refugee children”.
“Schools need to stop dealing with issues of racism as just another form of bullying. Schools need to have anti-racism policies in place that say what they will do to tackle racism when it arises,” she told SBS News.
She said there needs to be a balance in protecting the needs of all students, but also an understanding about the experiences of multicultural students and the need to take firm action.
“Racism in schools is a thing," she said. "Research shows six out of ten students have experienced racism in schools.
"It’s not limited to a particular school just as it’s not limited to a particular sporting club."
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