Jeffco student Instagram page chronicles bullying, discrimination and more

TimesUpJeffco lets Jeffco Public Schools students anonymously share their stories

Joseph Rios
jrios@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 7/20/20

Lakewood High School senior Joshua Lujan identifies himself as queer and said he has experienced homophobia since he was in elementary school. Lujan, who previously attended South Lakewood Elementary …

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Jeffco student Instagram page chronicles bullying, discrimination and more

TimesUpJeffco lets Jeffco Public Schools students anonymously share their stories

Posted

Lakewood High School senior Joshua Lujan identifies himself as queer and said he has experienced homophobia since he was in elementary school. Lujan, who previously attended South Lakewood Elementary and Creighton Middle School, said being targeted because of his sexuality is distracting and affects him even though he’ll act like it doesn’t.

“What makes it harder is the lack of help for kids themselves. I’ve definitely asked for help or went to (Creighton Middle School) to address the issue,” said Lujan. “Having them present no solution makes me feel like I am not listened to or heard by my own school. And it definitely makes me not feel safe.”

After being inspired by the Instagram page @timesupjd, an account that allows Instagram users at Jamesville-DeWitt Schools in New York to anonymously share their stories of alleged incidents like sexual harassment, discrimination and other issues like mental health, Lujan and his friend Elyza Berry started the Instagram page @timesupjeffco, or TimesUpJeffco. The page, launched on July 5, provides Jeffco Public Schools students the opportunity to anonymously share their alleged stories of being bullied, racially profiled, targeted because of their sexual orientation and more.

As of July 16, the page has 1,670 followers with more than 300 posts of students sharing their stories throughout Jefferson County.

“There is a desire for people to share these stories,” said Berry, who graduated from Lakewood High School in May and plans to attend the University of Oregon this fall. “They felt ignored for so many years, and the people who have experienced these things want change. I think other people are intrigued to read about these things that they haven’t necessarily experienced themselves. But additionally, a lot of these stories are shocking and somewhat horrifying.”

Lakewood High School’s Theatre Company has been the subject of several posts on the TimesUpJeffco page for its showing of “West Side Story.” The musical, which was performed by students in the theater group in March, features a feud between two New York City gangs — the white Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks. “West Side Story” is a play that many suggest pleads for racial tolerance.

Posts on the page accused students in the musical of using racial slurs offstage as a joke and said Hispanic roles were given to white students.

“I personally auditioned for this show, and as a Hispanic girl (I can pass for either white or Hispanic) who was in advanced choir, I thought I would at least have a chance at making it into the ensemble — but I did not even receive a call back, while MANY if not all, of my white friends did, and they were eventually cast. This year, they were not focused on upholding the culture and realism of this show,” reads a July 5 post on TimesUpJeffco’s Instagram from a female at Lakewood High School. “They wanted a show that would be the most `successful,’ but at the expense of the people they promised roles.”

The Lakewood High School Theatre Company released a lengthy statement that said it is deeply saddened to think it hurt feelings. The statement reads that racial slurs were never encouraged and accusations of the production being “white-washed” are unfair. Every Puerto Rican character in the musical was either partially or completely Hispanic or of color, the statement says. It continues and reads that everyone is welcome in theatre and that the directors will always strive to do the right thing and to listen with the intent to grow.

“To have to defend a story that aims to teach acceptance and love that is now being weaponized to cultivate division and resentment is not only ironic, it is heartbreaking. However, some things are worth defending,” the statement says. “The (Lakewood High School Theatre Company) directors have always been and will continue to be open to discussions and conversations with students who have concerns about the community, the decisions made and the outcome of casting choices.”

“Nowhere on an anonymous social media platform can those conversations take place, conversations that promote understanding, compassion, healing and ultimately growth,” the statement continues.

Lujan said he believes the page provides a platform for students to have their voices heard and have their stories told, which he says isn’t easy. He believes the anonymous platform makes it easier for students to share their experiences.

“For so long students have felt like their voices aren’t heard or prioritized. A lot of the stories that are shared to us detail times when students reach out for help from their schools and either get ignored or don’t get helped,” said Lujan. “I think the page encourages a lot of people to open up and share their stories.”

Berry said the page has received submissions from people who make jokes and mock gender identity. She said the jokes further provide evidence of the way some students behave in Jeffco Public Schools.

Berry said she would like the school district to diversify its required reading and called for it to have a no-tolerance policy toward certain slurs.

“Most importantly, I want them to have sufficient mental health resources and more accessibility to file complaints and have them taken seriously,” she said.

Jeffco Public Schools said in a statement it is aware of the TimesUpJeffco Instagram page and that it is committed to ensuring that all of its schools support student success, safety and wellness.

The statement lists off a number of school district policies in place including its public/parent complaint policy, student complaint policy and non-discrimination policies.

Jeffco Public Schools’ public/parent complaint policy reads that the district believes that parents concerns, complaints or grievances should be addressed in a timely manner. The student complaint policy says that it honors a student’s right of inquiry and to express matters of concerns and encourages issues to be settled at the local school level.

When a complaint related to discrimination or harassment is filed, it is required to be processed. The district conducts an inquiry and takes steps to mitigate future harm during an inquiry, according to its discrimination statement and general complaint process.

Jeffco Public Schools’ statement also pointed to Safe2Tell as a way for students to anonymously report concerns or threats to themselves, friends, family or the community.

“In any circumstance where we can identify a concerning situation including posts on social media, we will investigate to determine if there is sufficient information to support the complaint and then work with school administration to take action. We want to be part of the solution and work to solve problems from the perspective that we care deeply about our students, staff and community,” the school district’s statement reads.

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