“What happens when a prep school’s black student president mocks her white male classmates?” a recent BuzzFeed article asks.
Well, she gets ousted as school president and then attends Wesleyan.
Maya Peterson’s tenure at Lawrenceville School, a prep school in New Jersey, focused on bringing awareness to diversity issues, whether that was trying to ease implicit racial tensions or bring gender neutral bathrooms to campus. The trouble started when she and some of her friends posed with their fists in the air in a “black power” photo in their yearbook. After some students complained to the principal about this, Maya instagrammed a photo of herself as a typical “Lawrenceville boi,” teasing her main critics, with hashtags like #romney2016,” “#confederate,” and “#peakedinhighschool.”
“You’re the student body president, and you’re mocking and blatantly insulting a large group of the school’s male population,” one student commented on the photo.
“Yes, I am making a mockery of the right-wing, confederate-flag hanging, openly misogynistic Lawrentians,” Peterson responded. “If that’s a large portion of the school’s male population, then I think the issue is not with my bringing attention to it in a lighthearted way, but rather why no one has brought attention to it before…”
While reading such statements by Maya in the BuzzFeed article, it was striking to me how “Wesleyan” she sounded. Many of her initiatives as student president were prominent activism movements at Wesleyan in the past year. When I found out she would be attending in the Fall, I reached out to her over Facebook message with some questions (what better way, for someone who blew up on social media and the news in the past week?).
Why’d you choose Wesleyan?
Wesleyan was my first choice since around my sophomore year. I knew that MGMT and Amanda Palmer were alums and it immediately seemed like the perfect place to finish my education as well as hone my creative skills as well as an educational environment that would prepare me for the world as a queer person of color.
Have you visited Wes/what’s your impression of it?
I have been to Wes twice so far. Once for my interview and the second time for WesFest. I felt at home as soon as I got on campus and had no doubt that I had made the right decision
Were you aware of all the activism at Wes concerning gender neutral bathrooms/AFAM studies/etc. this year?
I was made aware of all the recent activism at Wes when I went for WesFest. Prior to coming, I definitely thought of Wesleyan as this uber liberal place where I wouldn’t have to deal with many issues regarding equality, oppression, micro aggressions, etc.. But when I got here and talked to a number of students about the issues concerning the atrophy of the AFAM program, and what was explained to me as the unjust punishment of trans* students in the degendering story, I was surprised that those issues existed on campus. But I realized that thinking that Wesleyan was some kind of liberal utopia didn’t really make much sense. I got a little piece when I visited, but I’m excited to really feel the political climate when I get to campus in August
Are you interested in any particular activities for when you get to Wes?
I definitely plan on being active in the POC and queer communities at Wes, but other than that I am a writer and rapper and plan on working mostly on my own creative process when I get to Wes
I’m sure you’ve been getting a lot of attention (at school, and otherwise) after this BuzzFeed article came out. How’s that been?
The whole Buzzfeed thing really took me, my friends, and family by surprise. I have heard that there has been a lot of negative feedback, but I have not seen much of it myself aside from a tweet where someone said they confused my photo with a shot from the Planet of the Apes. I have gotten soo much positive feedback on social media and I’m just excited that this conversation is beginning to involve so many people
Anything else you want your fellow Class of 2018ers and current Wes students to know about you?
Other things… Lawrenceville is awesome regardless of the things that the admins need to work on. I think Wes students can understand exactly where my ambivalence comes from especially after all that has gone on recently
In the meantime, if there are other Class of 2018-ers who are doing cool and crazy things in (or out of) their respective college-preparatory facilities, please let us know at staff[at]wesleying[dot]org, and we’ll make sure to turn the Wes community onto it.