A Snapchat video from 2016 recently upended a Loudoun County Public Schools alumna’s college plans and reignited conversation around a perceived history of racism and inequity within the school system, The New York Times reported Dec. 26.
The three-second video reportedly depicted Mimi Groves — a recent graduate of Leesburg’s Heritage High School who was a freshman at the time of recording — using the N-word while addressing the camera, and was meant as a mere private message to a friend.
However, Groves’ then-classmate Jimmy Galligan, now a freshman at Vanguard University in California, caught wind of the video last school year and decided to share the clip publicly “when the time was right,” according to The New York Times.
“I wanted to get [Groves] where she would understand the severity of that word,” Galligan told that outlet.
He finally shared the video in June 2020 in light of Groves’ recent acceptance to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, as well as the death of George Floyd the month prior, following a contemporary pattern of teenagers leveraging social media to call attention to their peers’ racially insensitive words or actions in the past.
Groves was swiftly removed from the university’s cheer team and withdrew from the school shortly thereafter following pressure from admissions officials, who reportedly received a barrage of outraged emails and calls from the University of Tennessee community.
"What I said several years ago as an adolescent, in a short 3 second clip, was wrong, irresponsible, degrading and I take full responsibility for my actions — and will continue to learn and understand the history and true meaning of that word," Groves said in a prepared statement.
She continued, "I hope others learn from my mistakes, and understand that words can hurt deeply, and it is never ok to say a racial slur to anyone. I have never and will never justify what I said. It was offensive and hurtful and I understand that now."
One of Groves' friends, who is Black, said Groves "had personally apologized for the video long before it went viral," according to the Times. She also posted on Snapchat in Groves' defense, saying people should seek to educate others rather than "ruin their lives all because you want to feel a sense of empowerment."
That friend declined the Times-Mirror's request for an interview.
Galligan — whose mother is Black and father is white — told The New York Times he had been mocked with the same racial slur featured in the video in the halls of Heritage High, echoing an LCPS-commissioned report from the spring of 2019 that found students complaining about frequent use of the word.
That report, which LCPS Superintendent Eric Williams hired national consulting firm The Equity Collaborative to draft, observed: “Despite efforts from the division, school site staff, specifically principals and teachers, indicate a low level of racial consciousness and racial literacy.”
“The N-word gets used ALL the time here,” one LCPS student said of their school in the report.
“One of my teachers told me to go back to my country,” another said. “I was in shock. I was born here.”
Galligan said a particular instance in which he encountered racial slurs from classmates followed his senior-year English teacher playing an audio recording of Joseph Conrad’s novella “Heart of Darkness” that contained the N-word.
That same year, Galligan reportedly showed HHS Principal Jeff Adam an Instagram video in which a white classmate made threatening comments about Muslims, but the principal allegedly declined to take action on account of free speech and the fact that the video was recorded outside school.
Conversation around the school system’s tenuous history of race-related conflict has hardly abated since the report by The Equity Collaborative.
In the fall of 2019, the Virginia Office of the Attorney General’s Division of Human Rights opened a racial discrimination investigation into LCPS at the behest of the NAACP Loudoun Branch, particularly pertaining to alleged discriminatory practices in the Academies of Loudoun admissions process.
The attorney general’s office last month released the resulting 61-page report, which determined LCPS had a discriminatory impact on Black and Latinx/Hispanic students that applied to the Academies in 2018 and further called for the school system to undergo a conciliation process to resolve the matter.
“Racism occurs in LCPS on a daily basis,” Loudoun NAACP President Michelle Thomas told the Times-Mirror in September when demanding a resolution from the attorney general’s office. “We already know what the outcome is going to be, and the outcome is that they’re going to find it, because over 200 students and parents have cited racist incidents.”
Efforts to appease racial tensions in the school system ramped up once again in the aftermath of Floyd’s death, leading LCPS to form an “Action Plan to Combat Systemic Racism.”
Resulting actions included the removal of Loudoun County High School’s Confederacy-inspired “Raider” mascot, the Loudoun County School Board’s approval of inequity-combating changes to the AOL admissions process and the school system’s formal apology — in conjunction with the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors — for the past operation of segregated schools in the county.
Article updated on Dec. 30 to include statement from Mimi Groves and friend.