One of the high school traditions has always been Seminar Day, a day where students get to either lead or participate in various activities to learn more about unique and fun topics. Each year the Improv Troupe club holds a performance as a seminar; this year their seminar was streamed on Twitch for students to attend.
Unfortunately, unknown people got access to this Twitch livestream last March and used the chat function to spread anti-semitic hate speech during the seminar. Because of this incident, the school is investigating Twitch to get more information and plans not to use the streaming platform again.
Kara Sullivan, Theater Director at the high school and supervisor of the Improv Troupe, felt stunned witnessing this event. The three student chat monitors and herself attempted to stop the speech with warnings and letting people know of the monitors, but unfortunately it got increasingly inappropriate. The chat was on a delay, so a lot of things were able to be deleted quickly, but they could not disable the chat entirely.
“It is unfortunately too easy for people to feel empowered enough to write hateful things when they aren’t seen/no one knows who they are. I feel for these people that they carry this hate/need to write something so awful in order to make a statement or elicit a reaction. Regardless, there is just no room for this in our community/our world,” said Sullivan.
Ryan Colone ’21, one of the improv troupe leaders, and the whole troupe was extremely saddened by this unexpected incident and how it turned something meant to be positive, so negative.
“Our reaction to the incident was shock and disappointment that someone would turn a light-hearted school tradition into a platform for hateful rhetoric, and we are incredibly thankful for our moderators for dealing with the situation swiftly and appropriately,” said Colone.
Sullivan and the troupe had conversations about the incident to debrief and express their disappointment in what was supposed to be a positive and uplifting event. They also focused on the changes that they would make to the gig platform to ensure that nothing like this would ever happen again. They all remain committed to making the theatre a place of inclusion and promoting a safe space to laugh and spread joy as a community.
“The troupe and tech were all very upset after the show. We talked about what had happened and encouraged each other to keep aware of things that people say in order to try to figure out who did this,” said Sullivan.
School Resource Officer Matthew Wall was immediately made aware of the incident and contacted his supervisors in the Wellesley Police Department, including the Chief.
Wall explained how although hate speech is offensive and unjust, no legal action can be taken against it since freedom of speech, no matter how offensive, is nevertheless protected under the First Amendment.
“My initial reaction to this event was one of sadness and anger that this type of ignorance and intolerance is still present in today’s society. As a School Resource Officer and Patrolman before it never mattered to me someone’s race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc… All that mattered to me was treating someone with the same respect I would expect them to show me,” said Wall.
The Performing Arts Department and the high school overall will work hard to avoid any further incidents of hate speech in the future. A new feature where every person needs to use their school email for Zooms has already been implemented to ensure only students are permitted entry to zooms.
The incident was also addressed in advisories through discussing feelings and reactions about it.
“As a department we continue to monitor content that we use and try to move forward as a positive example. It is often difficult to anticipate certain things — especially during Covid. On behalf of the department, I apologize that this happened and we will tread very carefully moving forward” said Sullivan.