Princeton Public Schools leader issues statement about racial slur

The head of the Princeton Public Schools has issued a statement about a Snapchat post by a high school student that included a racial slur about classmates on a bus.

Superintendent of Schools Steve Cochrane said the district is investigating the incident involving a Princeton High School student who posted a selfie to Snapchat that was widely shared Tuesday by students and parents who were outraged over the offensive caption for the post that read “I’m on the bus with a bunch of n—— help.”

“We want to make clear that the student’s statement was unacceptable,” Cochrane wrote in a letter that went out to parents, student and staff in the district. “We are investigating the incident, and we understand the anger, sadness, frustration, and even fear the use of the word has created in our community.”

Princeton High School senior Jamaica Ponder also wrote a blog post about the Snap called “Back of the Bus” for the website Multi Magazine.

Ponder is the same student who wrote last year about students at Princeton High School playing a drinking game called Jew Nazi beer pong. She wrote Tuesday that the social media post was hurtful to black students even though they are accustomed to bigotry, and that it was astonishing to see a peer “shaken by the presence of black people that she had to send out an SOS to her friends.”

“Not only the fact that she’s calling us n——, that’s old news — and not that she felt comfortable posting it on social media — also old news — but the fact that she genuinely felt displeasure in the utter presence of black kids. That’s terrifying to me,” Ponder wrote. “To see that there are people, my peers who can’t stand me, or people who look like me, purely because we’re black, scares the living daylights out of me.”


The full text of Cochrane’s letter:

Dear parents, students, and staff,

As some in our community may have already seen, a Snapchat photo recently emerged in which a Princeton High School student used the N-word in reference to her classmates. We want to make clear that the student’s statement was unacceptable. We are investigating the incident, and we understand the anger, sadness, frustration, and even fear the use of the word has created in our community.

We also understand that the use of the word points to the larger reality of racism within our world. As an individual and as a superintendent, I often imagine a world beyond racism – a world in which all people move freely and without fear; a world in which levels of education and income are accessible to all; a world in which the ideas, contributions, and culture of each individual are celebrated.

But we don’t live in such a world. We live in a world in which we are regularly exposed to explicit and implicit biases. The news is filled with incidents and commentary regarding cultural difference and tensions. The conversation and the conflict are all around us.

Our students want and need to be a part of that conversation and to make sense of that conflict. I believe schools have a responsibility to give them a safe space to do that. More importantly, I believe schools have a responsibility to lead the conversations – and the actions – to propel our world to a place beyond racism.

But how? How can we possibly help our students and our society move beyond racism? The answer I cling to: Courage. Humility. Hope.

As educators, we have to have the courage to wade into conversations about race with our colleagues and our students even when we are afraid we might misstep and offend someone else or embarrass ourselves. We have to have the courage to look honestly at our curricula and in some cases radically revise it to reflect cultural balance. We have to have the courage to pose the questions to our students that challenge their world view – and ours.

That courage is already being demonstrated. Last month, on the staff development day, teachers from many of our schools explored racial and gender-based stereotypes as part of our districtís stated goal of enhancing racial literacy and cultural awareness. Last week, I attended the third Mercer County Day of Dialogue. I witnessed students and staff from 17 high schools, including PHS, talking openly about the “unspeakables” in their schools – the issues of racial discrimination that affect them in their daily lives – and how they could be eradicated. Today, I was invited to meet with the social studies teachers at PHS. They, and others at our high school, have already engaged their students in conversations about the use of the N-word, and will continue to do so. I applaud their courage.
Humility. As individuals and as institutions, we have to be humble enough to recognize that we all have internalized beliefs about race, we all harbor unconscious prejudices, we all have made mistakes, and that none of us hold all the answers. All of our perspectives are necessarily incomplete without those of others.

Humility means recognizing that we cannot do this work alone. I am encouraged by the conversations about racial literacy that are happening in the broader Princeton community, including through the work of Not in Our Town, the Princeton Public Library, Princeton University, and the student-founded organization, Princeton CHOOSE, which uses a collection of personal stories as entry points for conversations about race and diversity.

Hope. I still get chills when I hear the words, “I have a dream that someday my children will be judged not be the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” That dream gives me hope. Our own students give me hope.

Our students care deeply about issues of social justice and are committed to fighting cultural complacency, racism, and biases. Their vision and their action should give us all hope that the challenges of today’s world do not have to be the challenges of tomorrow’s.

Racism is not something we are born with. It is something we learn. It invades our psyche, sometimes violently, sometimes slowly and subtly.

But if it can be learned, it can be unlearned. There is no more important work we can do, no more important lessons we can teach than empathy for others and respect for our world’s diversity of races, religions, and cultures.

We have a long road ahead of us. There will be difficulties along the way. We will face them honestly. We will face them together. We will face them with hope.

Steve Cochrane


  1. Once again, Cochrane attempts to doge his own artillery.

    Yes Steve, racism exists in our world. The solution is to stop racism in our schools. That’s all we’re asking.

    1. It’s an almost impossible burden to “stop racism” in schools. Cochrane is right, the only way to have a meaningful change is through education and that is in the long-run. If you want a band-aid solution (which is what you are asking for), it will only mask up the problem until another problem bursts out again.

      1. I am suggesting that racism can be addressed in schools, before it becomes ingrained. The education can either teach against racism, or it can support NAZI vs Jews beer pong. This would be Stevie’s theatre, and he’s failing, and now he’s running away from the problem with your assistance.

        1. Combatting institutionalized racism starts in the households of students. For example, I would never listen to a teacher trying to teach me racism is bad at a young age, if my mother told me the opposite. Refer to Cochrane’s paragraph where there are indeed status-quo movements that are fighting against racial biases. Look historically, every time we had some meaningful historical change it never happened immediately, it happened through small reforms and then once grassroots support was gained, a bigger action was taken.

          Your solution is not as rosy as you think it is. I have been in many presentations with Holocaust survivors, slavery descendants, refugees, and often times these speakers are treated with disrespect and not many students listen unless they are FORCED TO, but at the point where you are forcing a kid to listen to a subject, they do not care enough to develop their own opinion on the topic.

          I am in fact a student of PHS, and I can assure you, the best way to solve this issue is not by making a big reform that will make everything seem solved.

          1. You’re a PHS student? So you just said you won’t listen in school if your parents tell you differently, and you won’t listen to historical testimony unless you’re forced to. Your solution is to ignore it until it blows over? I’m glad you’re not my kid.

            1. Thanks for your response liz! I think you really must’ve misread my response but I would be glad to reiterate it.

              First, I want to state I am not part of the population who ignores the speakers, my grandfather past away in Auschwitz so I am always very attentive when it comes to these matters. I am ashamed that many students don’t listen to the speakers but that is not what I’m arguing, thats just how these students are at our school.

              Second, my point about my parents was that at a young age, (usually the age when institutionalized racism begins to form) you are taught to listen to your parents before everyone else. Thus we should be changing the mindset of the entire community through reforms cochrane mentioned rather than such a small scope action.

              Lastly, my solution is through the status-quo. We need to get more students involved in these programs and thats by bringing attention to them and maybe encouraging them or incentivizing them as community service hours, not by just passing some bureaucratic policy that is a bunch of empty rhetoric.

              I’m glad you’re not my mom because you obviously haven’t paid attention in your history class lessons.

              1. Drop the debater. His last “solution” is nothing but a disguised counterplan!

              2. If I misread your response, why would you reiterate it?
                Are we having an atrocity contest? Oh boy! Can I see one of your ancestors and raise you two of mine? WTF is the matter with you?
                Either way, you continue to make no sense. Still glad you’re not my kid.

                1. I care to reiterate it because some people in this community (NOT YOU) want to have a good discussion and you misconstrued all my points.

                  Still glad you’re not my mom because if my mom went to Vassar and got a degree in political science, I would not her to be incoherent

                2. Now you are plagiarizing my comments about victim poker. You have zero debate skills. You have nothing.

                  1. Actually Noelle, if you read my comments you’ll see I’ve used that expression before. You’re not worth plagiarizing. You’re just attention-seeking, and I won’t be engaging further. Besides, I’m sure you’ll be too busy likening people of color to gorillas to have much time to post, anyway. Ciao.

            2. Liz, Peter is a lot wiser than you are, despite your advanced years. Schools cannot fix racism. Racism exists within cultures, therefore it will always be with us. Schools can educate but offer Zero guarantees. It is not the school’s fault if a student uses a racial slur. Stop virtue signaling and get real.

              1. What would lead you to believe that? Peter has displayed the ignorance and arrogance of a child, as have you.

                1. No, Peter displayed a coherent and logical narrative. You on the other hand are simply Virtue Signaling with no counter argument. You have lots of feelings and zero facts. Facts don’t care about your feelings. Simple fact, school is just one of many factors that go into shaping a student’s psyche. Schools can’t end racism full stop as you demand.

                2. Blake its discussions like this that the community should be having and thats exactly what this event has caused! I am not supporting racism. I am not telling you we should fund racism. All I am saying is that if you pass some policy, we will never have these discussions again because all these groups in the community will think the “problem” is solved. We need to look the problem in the eyes and keep fighting. I would love to reach out to you and have a discussion on this matter and potentially set up an event for the town to see at the library. If you are serious about this, I can come out of hiding from my pen name

                  1. Peter, have a care about coming out of your Pen Name as long as you live in Princeton. Unless you embrace the Culture of Victimhood, Virtue Signaling others and Identity Politics…the McCarthyism on the Left in this town will make you a persona non grata. At this time the Left is not interested in Diversity of Ideas, hopefully that will change soon and a voice like your can be heard and #freespeech will reign once more. Just look at this thread, nothing but Virtue Signaling: “Look at me I’m so moral and outraged! We need to blame the schools, the supt, unconscious bias.” A young girl made a stupid mistake, can we all just take a breath and stop pearl clutching now?

                    1. Lady, you should be so lucky as to have a string of pearls around your neck. Knock it off.

                    2. You do realize you just employed a Trump rhetorical device verbatim, right after having been outed for likening our former first lady to a gorilla? Sad!

                    3. Peter and Noelle, Your parents can be very proud of your earnest thought and consideration of others. You both make excellent points. Your generation is generally kind, tolerant, & comfortable with diversity as far as I can tell. Noelle may be giving you good advice about coming out from behind your Pen name, Peter . Sure it seems encouraging when Cochrane goes all Rachel Dolezal with a touch of MLK. Am not saying we shouldn’t respect Cochrane, in his role. As the chief representative of PPS he sets the priorities and tone. He political power influences public policy. But I think it wise to look, really look, at the actions of our leaders and pay close attention to their words.
                      Cochrane’s words as; “How can we possibly help our students and our society move beyond racism? (he says:) The answers I cling to: Courage, Humility, Hope.” Wow, the word Equality is as absent as African American in top positions in the District. Equality is the word, the principle, and the goal in making “hope” manifest. The wise, compassionate leadership of role models like Bill Johnson and Harvey Highland, who both cared about every student, is absent our District today. Hope for African Americans clearly turned to Nope for hiring at some point. Not sure why hiring is now in retrograde and Ivy whites are “Best” according to the voting Board… but right now, that’s where things stand in PPS.
                      Hiring talented African Americans into top positions elevates a whole family with that larger income, elevates the civility and dialogue in community, and elevates esteem for diversity in the minds of our young people. Barack & Michelle were “hope”.
                      So, words sound nice, but look at the actions of leaders telling you they are going to work on racism by working on you. Racism begins and ends within a persons on heart. And heart beats makes the energy that creates actions. And your actions seem wise and good. You absolutely have to respect your elders when you are a student in Princeton, but there’s no rule that says you have to believe statements that don’t ring true.

              2. I *totally* believe this from the person whose name is “White Christmas” trolling the Asian immigrant above because…. oh right, I don’t. What was that you so eloquently said? “Nut up?” The only one virtue signalling here is you behind your fake White Pride screen name. So don’t nut up – shut up. Unless you’re a coward. Which I think, unmistakably behind your screen name and big talk and half-epithets, you are.

                1. We aren’t trolling we are engaging in a coherent dialogue something you are not capable of due to your eye issue and lack of content knowledge.

          2. As a student, I can’t see why you waste your time at PHS. You clearly know more than any of the instructors, although they did set the bar rather low.

            1. hey man thats not very nice i think you should realize words can sometimes be stronger than actions

    2. Really? That is all you are asking? Educators should bear the herculean and utterly impossible task of stopping racism in schools full stop…as if a student’s psyche is solely shaped by their teachers words and no other factors. Wow.

      1. So you believe it is the task of the schools to support racism? If you can’t beat them join them?

        1. Omg! Yes, you have me exact. So astute. Yes, schools should support and fund racism!!! Derp.

          1. OMG, please post where you live so I can never walk by you. I’m going to guess one of two things: 1) you are a person of color and trolling out of totally misguided self-hatred, or 2) more likely, you are a CLASSIC Princeton limousine liberal who doesn’t want anything to do with courts and housing and all those icky things, but wants to run a 5k to raise $20 and claim nothing was handed to you on a plate. Or 3) you’re a teenage boy troll going for minority slurs and girls “asking for it” all in one. Which is it? If neither, what’s your background? I’d like to know so I can cross the street if I ever come upon you, so my kids aren’t exposed to your poison. kthxbye

            1. What a racist, stereotyper you are. I feel sorry for you. There’s something wrong with you and your desire to cross people off. “Thank god your not my son” or “thank god your not a neighbor” If anyone is intolerant and fascist it’s YOU.

              1. You got me. I am indeed intolerant of people who compare Michelle Obama to Harambe the gorilla. Guilty as charged!

              2. Oh MY you’ve been a busy little bee posting on Breitbart that Michelle looks like Harambe; the reason Orthodox women wear wigs is because they’re so much more beautiful than their own kinky hair; that Mohammed was a pedophile charlatan… man, this could take all day. Your words speak for themselves on who the racist stereotyper is.

        2. please refer to cochranes paragraph, on humility. Racism has declined exponentially the past decade and we haven’t passed a policy in school. The reason why its on the decline is because we are funding and supporting groups that change the mindset of the community.

          1. Racism in schools is at an all time low and rarely even exists. White kids put Black kids on pedestals and even fetishize Blackness because Blacks are always on the cutting edge of US culture ie: music, dress, parlance, sports, Hollywood. These are part & parcel of the free market which more than anything has led to the huge decline in racism, not because of gov’t programs. So some girl used the n-word…white kids get very confused about the use of the n-word when they incessantly hear it in rap lyrics. I would be more interested in this girls actions toward black people, than a stupid comment on snapchat. Much ado about nothing. Until the n-word is unacceptable to all people, it’s alive and well in our culture despite having it’s own friggin Constitution.

            1. It’s “Much ado about nothing” unless you happen to be on the receiving end of racism. As an Asian immigrant growing up in NYC on more than one occasion I’ve been called “ch*nk”. When you decide to whitewash this behavior you perpetuate and enable it. Racism still exists and you don’t really need to go far to see it. 2 years ago I was at a ski resort and a bus load of Asian tourist show up and a young teenage boy said out loud “Asian Invasion”. At least his older sister scolded him and told him it was rude and wrong. So there is hope. It’s when this behavior occurs and someone or the community steps up to scold it down that we have meaningful progress, not let it slide as “stupid comment on snapchat”.

              1. Wow, the Culture of Victimhood is alive and well. How did you ever manage to recover? Did anyone die after that experience? Everyone experiences racist remarks, so what? Gunna let it slow you down? Did it end your vacation? Did it keep you from pursuing your goals? Stop with your American Privilege. People are living in total subjugation all over the world, but someone hurt your feelings.
                BFD, nut up!

                1. Actually I wasn’t really offended. More saddened by the ignorance of that young kid. I’m a very well adjusted adult with 3 very well adjusted kids. I own 2 homes and 3 cars. Have my kids college education well funded and my retirement well funded. Considering that I grew up on welfare and food stamps I think I did OK. How about yourself? What challenges did you overcome? I’m not a victim or will ever play that card. Being called a “ch*nk” never stopped me from personal success. You see I’ve overcome much worse in life than anything you can say to me or about me. Believe me I’ve got very thick skin. Did you start with nothing in life and get this far? I’ve more than “nut up” to get to this point in life. I’ve been jumped by kids, mugged by teenagers and had weapons pointed at me in the projects. I highly doubt I didn’t “nut up”. How about you? How did you “nut up”?

                  1. So wtf are you whining about? Do you just enjoy playing Victim Poker? I have been called a SPIC many times and also was on Welfare and Food Stamps, but now I am doing very well. Dude, let us dispense with the Victim Poker, it’s just stupid and ineffectual. Sticks and stones.

                    1. I’m not playing Victim Poker. I grew up in Harlem and when someone comes at me I expect them to come at me correct. Now to a more important point this young lady will someday go into a work force where her boss may be Latino, Asian, African American or Indian. How long do you think that type of behavior would be tolerated before she got fired? The CEO of American Express is African American, CEO of Pepsi, Mastercard, Google and Microsoft is Indian American heritage. When I started out in my bank training program over 20 years ago I was one of 2 minorities. That world has changed and our Princeton kids are going into a different work world where that type of behavior will get her fired. Better that Princeton Public school and Princeton parents teach our kids now or suffer the consequences later in life.

                    2. Words and thoughts don’t always translate into actions. If they did, every time a good looking women walked by a man we would have big problem. This is a young girl who made a stupid mistake, she’s not Hitler. Stop the pearl clutching.

                    3. I don’t know what pearl clutching is. I know right and wrong. If you make a mistake you own it, pay the price and learn from it. Anything less and we are doing her a disservice to her future. When I was 14 I did something really stupid, got busted for joying riding and had to face a judge, did my community service and learned from it. It didn’t ruin my life but made me a better person. I wouldn’t let my kids slide if they were in the same situation. Personal responsibility is something that every generation should be taught. But then maybe I’m old school and not PC. I’m not leftist but an independent realist.

                    4. Btw – Pearl Clutching is over-reacting and hand wringing like some great tragedy has occurred when the opposite is true.

                    5. No, you’re thinking of Godwin’s Law. Poe’s Law is quite different. But thank you for continuing to prove your ignorance with every post.

                    6. Don’t compare breaking the law and endangering lives as you did, to using a racial slur.

                    7. I guess as an educator you are the only arbiter of right and wrong. You clearly are missing my point, consequences have actions. She will be on the internet and outed forever. When you go to get a job in private industry social media and internet searches are now part of the screening process. So it doesn’t matter if you believe that it is only a stupid mistake, but how HR will view her actions. How you feel about me or my past actions is irrelevant. I only care that other kids can learn from this and avoid a similar fate. There is too much back and fourth about the degree of the mistake and not the future consequences of unacceptable societal behavior. I’m well past the point of my past teenage mistakes having any lasting damage as that was before the age of the Internet. Unfortunately for this generation social media is there forever and searchable.

                    8. The difference between the two of us is that I made my mistake as a youth, owned it and matured from it and as an adult can tell right and wrong. You are trying to whitewash this incident but let’s discuss your “mature adult” actions equating Michelle Obama to “Michelle is classless and bears a striking resemblace to Harambe – just saying”. I don’t think anyone with objectivity should be looking to you as a source of enlightenment when you compare the former first lady to a gorilla in an online discussion about racism. Like I said everything on the internet lives forever and is searchable and I have a screen shot of your comment to prove it. Don’t bother trying to delete it as I also have the list serve server and hosting site. It wouldn’t take much from this point to get your real identity even if you use a yahoo, gmail or some other handle to sign up. In my second career after banking I started an internet company. That’s why I put my real name on my post as I know that there is no true anonymity online. It just takes the right resources in time and money to out someone.

                2. People do die from bigotry in the US. Days ago, a white supremacist killed a black man and freely admitted race was his motivation. People like him are emboldened by people like you.

                  1. If only the schools had had a better Anti Race program that tragedy could have been avoided. Derp

            2. Am I seriously reading that someone who calls herself Noelle BLANCHE is expounding on how racial epithets are no biggie? Sorry, gotta go, my eyes are hurting too much from rolling back in my head.

              1. Noelle Blanche posted online that Michelle Obama resembles Harambe the gorilla. So when you come at it from that view of course racial epithets are no biggie. People need to consider the source of these comments and decide for themselves if it’s no biggie.

                1. That a total dodge and off topic. Michelle does look like Harambe and deBlasio looks like Big Bird. So what? What’s your point? Black people enslaved in Mauritania and Darfur but you’re worried about Michelle Obama? She’s doing fine.

              2. Noelle Blanche was my Haitian grandmother’s name. I don’t need a virtue signaling white woman to tell me what a victim I am.

                1. I don’t think you know what virtue signalling means if you’re employing it in this context, and I struggle mightily to believe that any person of color would say Michelle Obama looked like Harambe the gorilla and think that was A-OK. OR that a woman of color would say that black kids have it so good they’re “fetishized,” and then go after another person of color (Steve Fu) below. Either you’re the worst troll on earth or you have some serious issues.

  2. It’s highly likely that in every high school or college in this country at least one student will use a racial slur. So what is PHS going to do? Make her wear a scarlet B on her clothes.

    I thought Ponder did better on the Nazi Beer Pong story because that exposed a whole bunch of kids who didn’t really care how insensitive their drinking game was. One kid who is a bigot in a school of 1400 is hardly news. Then again, the kid may have listened to too much rap and didn’t understand how this would be received.

  3. Enough drama Mr. Cochrane. This over the top response should have every other sophomore clamoring to release another obnoxious snapchat post, just for the attention.

    Also, who appointed this student, Jamaica Ponder, the voice of the African-American community in Princeton? If this incident was “terrifying” we have raised some pretty fragile students.

    1. Apparently not as fragile as the adults, who can’t handle having racism called out as such.

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