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No more dunk tanks for Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows schools

SD42 became aware of its racist origins this year

Schools in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows are no longer allowed to use dunk tanks as part of any carnival, festival, or for any future school fundraising events, because of the tank's racist heritage. 

The school district said they became aware of the racist origins of the dunk tank this year when a number of families brought forward concerns.

American publications like Popular Mechanics, and digital media like Snopes, and Salon, have documented historical racist carnival games like African Dodger, and others with worse titles, where the object was to hit a black person – even children – with a projectile like baseballs or eggs. These games were said to popular throughout the 19th Century in the United States until the 1960's when they evolved into the dunk tank, where black people would fall into a tank of water once a target was hit. 

"Upon investigating, we did learn that the origins of the game were racist, violent, and targeted at black people," explained Irena Pochop, spokesperson for SD42. 

"To honour our commitment to inclusivity and respect for all community members, the district decided to exclude this activity from future district and school events and shared this decision with school administrators in May," added Pochop.

However, this news came too late for students at Maple Ridge Secondary, who ordered a dunk tank for a male mental health event organized by the Social Justice 12 classes. They ordered the tank for the Thursday, May 23, event two months prior and it cost them about $600. They only found out they could not use the tank at around 9 a.m., the morning of the event. 

The dunk tank was a major part of the event, said Grade 11 student Dianna Kim, who helped organize it with 50 other students. 

"It was included in the third part of our event called 'Dunk the Stigma'," Kim explained, noting that it was going to be used as an important way to gain attention around the stigma surrounding male mental health. The first part of the event was an education piece where students presented a video they made on the topic. The second part of the event was an engagement piece called 'Step on Stigma', where, Kiim said, students walked around the track discussing issues raised on topic cards made by Kim's classmates. 

There were 10 teachers in line to be dunked in the final segment of the event. 

"Initially, I felt really disappointed and sad that the main event was not permitted," said Kim. "However, upon further reflection we all realized with the racist heritage of the dunk tank, we fully understood why it couldn’t be used."

The school district has since paid for the dunk tank.

But, Kim and her classmates were hoping that representatives from the school district would take accountability for their mistake of not informing their school about the new rules in a timely manner. 

"Just like we, as students, are expected to take accountability for our mistakes, we would expect them to simply come to apologize and offer action to support their apology," said Kim, noting the event was able to continue, using water balloons instead.

Pochop noted the school board was aware that the timing of the decision impacted the MRSS event, in addition to another event at one of the elementary schools. 

However, she said, it is possible other schools may have also been contemplating including the activity in their year-end celebrations, but would have made other plans based on the information the district shared with them. 

And, she also noted, the school districts of New Westminster, Abbotsford, and Surrey, have all stopped using dunk tanks at school events, in addition to the Chilliwack School District, which made a similar decision last year.

Kim is very optimistic that the situation will be resolved, as they are planning to meet with a school district representative next week.


Colleen Flanagan

About the Author: Colleen Flanagan

I got my start with Black Press Media in 2003 as a photojournalist.
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