MADISON, Wis. - A black security assistant at West High School has an emotional plea to change the district’s zero tolerance policy after being fired for using the N-word Wednesday.
This comes after several incidents of staff members using racial slurs in front of students in the past year, but Marlon Anderson argues his case is different, because he was asking a student to stop using the term.
Anderson is filing a grievance following his termination, saying that the Madison Metropolitan School District should consider the context in which he used the slur.
Anderson worked at the district for 11 years – the last three years as a security guard at West High.
He said a student who was refusing to leave the school pushed the assistant principal, so he felt it was his job to help. That’s when Anderson said the student began calling him names using expletives, including the N-word at least 15 times.
"I made a conscious decision to address the word because it is an epidemic,” Anderson said. “Our kids use it every day."
Anderson knows the power of words to lift students up.
“I always say things like, 'You’re the best,' 'You’re the greatest,' 'You this and you that,' 'You can conquer the world,'” he said. “That’s part of my passion. I love kids.”
When Anderson used the word that got him fired, he was hoping to get the student calling him the N-word to stop.
"You have no tolerance for a word, but yet you let students call me that word 15 times without correcting that behavior,” Anderson said, adding that no other staff member tried to stop the student from calling him the slur.
MMSD has a zero tolerance policy for staff saying the racial slur, leading to Anderson’s termination. Anderson argues that context is everything.
“I want the zero tolerance policy to be looked at. It’s lazy,” he said. "My mother was called this word. My father was called this word, my grandmother, my grandfather and keep going down the family line. We were all called this word, and not one of them could say, 'Don't call me that.' I can. And I shouldn't be punished, because I have the right to tell somebody not to call me this word."
West High School’s Black Student Union said it was meeting Thursday with other students to talk about what happened and discuss the next steps to take to support Anderson, including a planned walkout Friday morning.
Anderson said words of support pouring in on social media are now helping him.
“I feel like I was successful in relaying a message that I love you and I want you to be the best,” he said. "Regardless of whatever the future this holds for me with the MMSD, I touched a lot of kids."
MMSD didn't answer any direct questions about the incident, but Board of Education President, Gloria Reyes wrote in a statement that while they’ve taken a tough stance on racial slurs and believe they have no room in schools, “We have also heard from the community about the complexity involved – and (it’s) our duty to examine it. As a board, we plan to review our approach, the underlying policies, and examine them with a racial equity lens understanding that universal policies can often deepen inequities.”
Reyes wrote that she has requested this item be placed on the board agenda.
"This is an incredibly difficult situation, and we acknowledge the emotion, harm and complexity involved,” her statement said. “Many people in our community and our district are grappling with that complexity, and we will continue to do so as we go forward.”
Madison Teachers Inc. is representing Anderson in his grievance, requesting a hearing to appeal his termination. Doug Keeler, with the union, said this process can take a long time.
“We will allow for that process to play out so we can ensure the outcome is right for all involved,” Reyes wrote in her statement.