The story begins at Agnew High School, a suburban school in the Western United States. Generally, there aren't many problems at Agnew. The students earn high test scores and a majority go on to college. The student body is more diverse than other schools in the area with 64 percent white students, 10 percent Asian, 11 percent black and 15 percent Latino.

The first problem occurred on Halloween. Some students threw a kegger at their house when their parents were out of town. It was a big party and many of the school's most prominent students were there, including the student body president. Very few minority students attended the party. Later that week, students posted some pictures of the party on the Internet including one of a group of students in black face with nooses around their necks and other students dressed up as Klan members. The local press picked up the pictures and the story blew up. Still, the school administration chose not to punish the students because the incident had occurred off of school property. Instead, Principal Edwards called the students into his office, told them their behavior was inappropriate and asked them to take the pictures down. The students complied and Principal Edwards hoped the whole thing would blow over.

A few weeks later, the school held a pep rally for the football team. The student body was wound up because the football team had a chance to go to state for the first time in 20 years. Students were yelling and pounding the bleachers with their feet. When it came time for the dance team to perform, the group (which is mostly made up of minorities) refused to dance and instead sat down on the floor with their arms crossed and their heads down. The captain of the team grabbed the microphone and made a speech protesting the blackface photographs and accusing the administration and the white students of being racists. The student body, already excited because of the game, exploded. Some people cheered the speech, while others stood up and started yelling racist slurs and throwing things at the dance team. Several teachers, aided by the resource officers (in-school police) escorted the dance team out of the gym and into the principal's office where they were all suspended for causing a disturbance in school and failing to get their performance approved before the pep rally. The other students were all sent back to their classrooms and the teachers tried (with varying degrees of success) to go on with their regular lesson plans without dealing with the incident any further.

Since the pep rally, Agnew has become increasingly tense. Teachers complain that minority students, angry at the suspensions, have become increasingly hostile in class. White students complain that groups of minorities won't let them pass in the hall. A group of black students reported that a car full of white students spit on them as they were walking home from school. There are more fights than usual at school. Teachers say that their classes are more difficult to control. The administration is worried that they are sitting on a powder keg.

Before you read further, decide on a person or role you would like to take on to engage in this simulation. Do you want to take the role of:

  • Ana, the community relations mediator? 
  • Principal Edwards, the high school principal? 
  • Sara, the black dance team captain? 
  • Brian, the white student body president? 

Guy Burgess is a Founder and Co-Director of the University of Colorado Conflict Information Consortium. He holds a Ph.D. in Sociology and has been working in the conflict resolution field, as a scholar and a practitioner, since 1979. His primary interests involve the study and management of intractable conflicts, public policy dispute resolution, and the dissemination of conflict resolution knowledge over the Internet. He is one of the primary authors and creators of the Online Training Program on Intractable Conflicts, and is the Co-Director of CRInfo -- the Conflict Resolution Information Source. Dr. Burgess has edited and authored a number of books and articles, the most recent being The Encyclopedia of Conflict Resolution (with Heidi Burgess, ABC-Clio 1999). www.beyondintractability.org