Horace Mann, the elite private school located in the Bronx, prides itself on its approach to diversity—but a recent assembly where students were asked to participate in a poetry exercise resulted in some students using racial slurs and sexist comments, a second assembly to discuss what happened and possibly most embarrassing, a NY Times article about the debacle.

Two poets, Denise Duhamel and Mau­reen Seaton, read, "Litany of our Fathers," which Horace Mann's student newspaper, "The Record," said is "a poem about abu­sive fathers which included vio­lent images and profanity." The Record further explains:

The two then led an exer­cise involv­ing the stu­dent audi­ence col­lab­o­ra­tively pro­duc­ing a spo­ken work. Each stu­dent was given three index cards, and was asked on the first to write five words begin­ning with “I remem­ber…” on the next, seven words includ­ing a color, and on the last, five words ref­er­enc­ing a pop cul­ture icon. The cards were then col­lected and brought to the stage. Any stu­dent was invited to read aloud a card from each category.

Some cards con­tained racial slurs, sex­ist com­ments, and other offen­sive lan­guage, “reprehen­si­ble things that are not reflec­tive of our School’s val­ues,” [Upper Divi­sion Head Dr. David] Schiller wrote in a let­ter to par­ents. “Much to the con­fu­sion and shock of vir­tu­ally every­one in the room, these comments were then read aloud.”

Some students did refrain from reading the cards: A sophomore said, "I was stand­ing at the micro­phone with the cards only to real­ize that one of my cards repeated the ‘N’ word three times in a row in between other pro­fane lan­guage. I decided to replace all the words with words from my pre­vi­ous card, say­ing ‘orange pud­ding orange’ instead." Also, almost half of students polled by The Record said they weren't taking the poetry exercise seriously.

Administrators quickly tried to manage the situation by convening another assembly to discuss what happened and sent a letter to parents explaining the poem "was filled with profanity" and "included hateful and highly antagonistic language." However, the Times reports that Duhamel, a professor at Florida International University, "said it is, in fact, a poem against 'the patriarchal structure' and seeks to dispel the notion of 'gayness' by using words that blunt the idea that 'gay lives are somehow different from straight ones.'"

A senior also told the Times said that the slurs were not a surprise, "There were some people who said that this was a long time coming, and they definitely recognized this attitude in Horace Mann students"—indeed, a black Horace Mann student wrote an op-ed in The Record saying "Call me a cynic, but I was not at all sur­prised by the events that tran­spired on Tues­day. Words and ideas were thrown around that I’ve heard expressed in hall­ways, class­rooms, and the cafe­te­ria. I per­son­ally have been sub­ject to remarks much worse than those shared on stage. The one aspect of this that shocked me was that peo­ple had the audac­ity to get up on stage in front of the entire school with absolutely no regard for our emo­tions and utter such filth."

The tuition at Horace Mann (without aid, scholarships) is over $37,000/year.