In late October, Dontee Prevost and a friend went out to the bars in downtown Eugene, as they have on a number of evenings. They stayed late, enjoying drinks and conversation before making their way home. As they walked, they ran into a white woman, a salon owner they both were acquainted with from years ago. However, she met them with anything but familiarity. Instead, she seemed filled with animosity because of the color of Prevost’s skin.
“She was belligerently drunk, and she came out [of the salon] with this mean look, just staring at me,” Prevost said. “She came up to me and asked me ‘What are you doing here?’” He says he didn’t understand the question. “I was just there like everyone else,” Prevost says. He tried to walk away, but “she cornered me, to where I couldn’t move. Her and her boyfriend were saying the N-word.”
For Prevost, this was one particularly vile occasion out of several where he felt judged, accosted or discriminated against for the color of his skin. Living in Oregon his whole life, he’s been accused of stealing while standing at the counter of a Eugene 7-Eleven and had supervisors and co-workers use racial slurs with impunity, among other things. But to him, most disturbing of all is that his 11-year-old mixed-race son’s experiences have begun to mirror his own.
Three weeks ago, his son, a fifth grader at Creslane Elementary School in Creswell was in class when a white classmate began saying the N-word. His son told his classmate he couldn’t say that, but he says the child insisted he could, and said it several times in spite of being told otherwise.
“He thought it was funny, even though it upset my son,” Hailey Weber, Prevost’s partner, said.
Their son went to the counselor’s office, and his classmate apologized, but the family says that school did hardly anything. Instead of remedying a traumatic situation and correcting unacceptable behavior, Weber says, the counselor was complacent with the single verbal apology.
“They just sent them back to class together, as if it was not really that big of a deal,” Weber says. “They waited until the end of the day to call me.”
The school rendered a two-day in-school suspension for the student in the days after, but tried to funnel him right back into class with Prevost and Weber’s son afterward.
“They told me if I was uncomfortable with them being in the same class, I could switch my son’s class,” Weber says.
Eugene Weekly reached out to Creslane, which declined to comment.
Meanwhile on March 2, Eugene District 4J’s school board adopted a new racial harassment policy that “broadly prohibits all forms of racially harassing conduct, including forms that do not involve an intent to harm or result in tangible injury or detriment to persons impacted by harassment, and as such, is believed to improve racial equity and inclusion in the district,” according to board documents.
It took a multi-post Facebook plea from Weber’s profile to finally motivate Creslane to remove the suspended child from their son’s class. The school eventually did, but it shouldn’t have been that difficult, Weber says, and it certainly doesn’t fix a clear lack of protocols, stops and measures for incidents like these.
It’s difficult to be prepared for this unless you’ve felt it yourself, Prevost says.
“The incident with my son, that was definitely something I wasn’t ready for, to happen so early, but yet I was prepared because I went through the same things when I was younger,” Prevost says. “I remember riding my bike to Sheldon High School and I’d have people in trucks screaming out the N-word at me.”