New Girl in School

By Carol Passmore — Set in the U.S.A.

Malika Saiyeva, age 19 framed: ink and watercolor

Saskia Hanover, age 12

Sameva Mabena, age 15

Anzor Hashagulov, watercolor

Anzor Hashagulov, watercolor

“So,” said Annette, “we decided to be nice to her.” 

“Who?” I asked.

“The nigger coming to school,” said Annette. “The principal says we aren’t to have trouble like Little Rock.” 

Lib giggled. “Then better not call her nigger.”

“Sure,” I said. “We should be nice.” I hadn’t thought about it. Besides, it was a big school; I’d probably never see her.

I was wrong. Her name was Lynn, and she was in my algebra class, sitting quietly in the back. And in my English class, quietly in front. In history, she sat right by me.

I decided to show Lynn the cafeteria. I wondered if that was “too nice,” but remembered my first lunch, alone, the year before. 

There was a long cafeteria line. Everyone got quiet when we joined it. After we got our food, tables were getting full. We sat at a half-empty table with kids I didn’t know. They all got up and left, and no one would join us.

We stared at each other. Her short black hair was wavy, her skin a rich coppery brown. My brown hair was short and wavy and my tanned skin almost as brown as hers. I figured we could pass as sisters.

“If they don’t want to eat with us,” I muttered, “I’m not sure they’re my friends.”

So I stayed, and through junior and senior years, Lynn and I ate together. We had a private table; no one ever had the courage to join us.

A good thing was, my friends and a lot of other kids were polite to Lynn. The bad part was, they were polite to me too. Lib explained “When we said friendly, we didn’t mean that friendly.”

Some kids called us names and threw things, but nothing serious. No one didn’t know us. Over time Lynn and I discovered we had lots in common. Besides almost all the same classes, we had the same interests. 

The best thing about those years was meeting people with the American Friends Service Committee, who taught Lynn and me about nonviolence and helped us be nice to people who called us names. They introduced us to others who didn’t think your color should determine where you went to school or what job you could have. We had fun with them, which made up for not being in many high school activities.

Sometimes I look at my school yearbooks. Sophomore year, when I worked so hard at being popular, lots of kids signed my book, saying how nice I was. Junior year only a few signed, and wrote nothing personal. My senior yearbook was different. All those kids I had wanted as friends signed it. They wrote how they admired someone standing up for her beliefs. They didn’t say they changed their minds about race relations, and I’m not sure being admired made up for being lonely and left out, but I was glad they were willing to sign.

The best was from Lynn, who wrote a whole page. She wrote how scared she was that first day, and how glad she was when I spoke to her. I was surprised; she never looked scared. But then, you can’t know everything about your best friend.

Discussion Questions

  • Why did Carol offer to take Lynn on a tour of the lunchroom?
  • How do you think Carol felt when the other schoolmates got up and left the lunch table? How do you think Lynn felt? How would you feel if this happened to you?
  • Why did Carol continue to eat with Lynn? What did she sacrifice by doing this? Is the right thing always the easiest?
  • What makes people different? How do you feel when you are with someone who is differen of people wouldn’t be accepted in each of these groups? How is it decided who is in or who is out?
  • Have you ever been left out? How did you feel? Have you ever included someone who had been left out?
  • PREAMBLE of the Universal Universal Declaration of Human Rights (United Nations): Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and the equal and unalienable right of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.
    Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (United Nations) : All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and human rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
  • Reflecting on the quotes above:
    • Is it a basic human right to be included in the social groups of any school government, job, or community group in which you spend all or part of your day? How does this relate to Article 1?
    • Are there any situations in which someone should be excluded? Temporarily? Permantly?
    • Does Carol have a moral obligation to sit with Lynn? Why?
    • Do the other students have the obligation to include someone from a minority in their informal school groups, such as lunch?
    • If they allow a person of a minority to join them, do they have an obligation to include them in conversation?