Alums of Kirstjen Nielsen's High School Speak Out Against Her En Masse

Hundreds of former students of Berkeley Preparatory School in Tampa, Florida have signed a petition asking the school's headmaster to retract a statement congratulating Nielsen and condemn her instead.
June 20, 2018, 4:06pm
Bloomberg via Getty

When the Department of Homeland Security rolled out its family separation practice last month, New York resident Megan Magray’s mind wandered to a Facebook post from nearly seven months ago. In December, her high school alma mater, Florida’s Berkeley Preparatory School, had congratulated Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen—a grad from the class of 1990—for her confirmation to the Trump administration.

As Magray read about more than 2,000 children being separated from their parents at the border, she felt strongly that Berkeley ought to retract its statement and disavow Nielsen and her department’s policies. This week, she helped author a letter to the school’s headmaster, calling for him to come out against Nielsen, as well as start a crowdfunding campaign to support RAICES, an immigrant legal defense organization. So far, the petition has garnered more than 330 signatures from the school’s alumni and the campaign has raised over $6,500. “The school definitely exercised a disappointing type of apathy—like, ‘Oh look, a famous alum, all politics are all the same, how cool,’” Magray, a 2013 alumna who started the petition with 2012 alumnus Richard Stull, told Broadly. “But this transcends politics—it’s a humanitarian crisis.”

Magray said the Berkeley grads who have signed their names to the letter come from across the political spectrum, proving that separating families at the US border shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Notably, the list of signatures has also come to include George H. Pennington, who served as the school's headmaster in the 1970s. The school’s current headmaster, Joseph W. Seivold, has so far stayed silent, and, as of this writing, Berkeley’s post congratulating Nielsen can still be found on the school’s alumni Facebook page. In a statement to the Tampa Bay Times, a school spokesperson said: "As a school, Berkeley's charge is not and cannot be to take a position on non-education-related governmental policy or action; it is to foster the confidence and build the critical thinking skills of our students so that they may do so."

Berkeley Preparatory School did not respond to Broadly’s own requests for comment, by phone and email. The Berkeley alumni Broadly spoke to argue that what they’re asking for isn’t a terribly great demand—in Stull's opinion, it would just mean practicing the values the school has long extolled.

“Secretary Nielsen’s actions, from the enforcement of this policy to the lies promulgated to cover for it, are in direct contradiction to Berkeley’s teachings and mission statement,” Stull told Broadly. “So while it may seem like it is a stretch to ask Berkeley for this, it is really just what they taught us to do.” Nielsen has become the face of the administration’s family separation practice, a fact she can’t escape. On Tuesday night, the secretary was driven out of a Washington D.C. Mexican restaurant when protesters from the local Democratic Socialists of America chapter bombarded her with shouts of “No borders! No walls! Sanctuary for all!” and “If kids don’t eat in peace, you don’t eat in peace.”

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Magray and Stull want Berkeley to join the chorus of voices decrying Nielsen and the Trump administration’s border practices—not to take a political stand, they say, but to come out on the side of morality. “That is the message we want to send to Secretary Nielsen: Not that we disagree with you on a policy matter, but that we find your actions to be beyond any moral justification,” Stull said. “And that until this policy is revoked and all of these children are reunited with their parents, regardless of the odds, we are here to fight you every step of the way.”