Dublin Scioto student says kindness, not politics, is focus of her T-shirts for charity

Alissa Widman Neese
ThisWeek group
After a teacher and two principals at Dublin Scioto High School were prohibited from wearing T-shirts bearing some politically oriented statements earlier this school year, senior Lucy McGary, 17, created and sold similar T-shirts for students to wear to show their support.

Lucy McGary wants other students to feel how she did when she read the words on her high school principal's T-shirt.

It was more than just a piece of clothing, the rainbow letters stamped onto the black fabric.

As a 17-year-old Black woman, the phrases "Women's rights are human rights" and "Black Lives Matter" were a gesture of love and support, especially as she returned to school following a summer of civil unrest and racial tensions that left her feeling hurt.

But many in the Dublin community disagreed.

When McGary learned that the T-shirts worn by three educators at Dublin Scioto High School on Sept. 10 had caused controversy and that they no longer could wear them, the senior didn't want those good feelings to disappear. So she designed similar shirts of her own.

"The students going through the issues listed on the back of that shirt, we decided we were going to support them," McGary said, recalling a conversation with friends. "Even if teachers aren't allowed to, we still have their back. We aren't going to let people quiet these issues."

Within two hours, McGary had sold 100 shirts at $19 apiece. She since has sold nearly 500 using Custom Ink, a Virginia-based website that allows users to create and print their own designs. She passed most of them out to buyers in a Dublin park in mid-October.

She said she would donate a few hundred dollars in profit to the Dublin chapter of Neighborhood Bridges, a nonprofit group that helps low-income families.

The other phrases on the original shirts were, "Science is real," "No human is illegal," "Love is love" and "Kindness is everything." McGary's shirt says "Kindness is not political, it is empathetic," a response to criticism about the phrases, and it features an image of two shaking hands coming to an agreement.

After a teacher and two principals at Dublin Scioto High School were prohibited from wearing T-shirts bearing some politically oriented statements earlier this school year, senior Lucy McGary, 17, created and sold similar T-shirts for students to wear to show their support.

McGary said she was nervous the first time she wore the shirt to school. She wanted to stand up for what was right, but she also didn't want to hurt classmates who disagreed with the phrases, she said. Then she started to see other students wearing them, too.

"It was insane," she said. "It was like an overwhelming feeling of, 'Wow, I just did that.' I just feel so loved."

Following the U.S. Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines in 1969, student expression in schools has been largely protected.

The same cannot be said for teachers, according to experts.

Emails provided to The Columbus Dispatch by Dublin City Schools officials in response to a public-records request show how the issue divided the community.

Some parents accused the three educators of indoctrinating students with their personal opinions or political views aligning with the Democratic party after a photo of them made its rounds on social media.

More emails, however, expressed support for the educators or criticized Superintendent Todd Hoadley's statements at a September school board meeting, at which he suggested the shirts in question violated the district's policies on controversial issues and political involvement.

McGary said she has tried to ignore the negative comments online – including those who say she's too young to understand. Discrimination affects people of all ages, she said.

During her freshman year, for example, classmates threw objects in her hair and made disparaging comments the first time she wore an afro, she said.

Today, McGary's experiences have been much better, and she feels loved and accepted at school, she said.

But more can be done to ensure all students feel that way, she said. She would like to see more resources provided to educators who want to address tough current events and issues, as well as more emphasis on educating students and employees about them.

The Dublin school district presented its plans for improving diversity and inclusiveness at a Sept. 29 school board meeting. It includes: reviewing the district's policies and social studies curriculum; completing an equity audit; training employees about implicit biases; continuing to recruit employees from diverse backgrounds; and establishing a hotline for parents and students to report concerns.

"I've had many conversations with students, parents and staff, and these information-gathering discussions are invaluable," Hoadley said.

McGary said she recently met with Hoadley to discuss the plan. Both told the Dispatch it was a great conversation.

"It's a step forward," she said. "They're trying."

McGary has shut down her online T-shirt orders for now so she can focus on her education, which includes participating in the Young Life and Black Youth United student clubs and being the softball team's manager. She works at a Kohl's store and is busy applying to colleges. She has a newfound respect for business majors after briefly running one, she joked.

McGary hopes to major in education and become a middle school art teacher, "to leave students better than I found them," she said.

"I want to make sure they know they're loved and help them reach their goals," she said. "One thing I feel here all the time is that I belong, that I'm known, and that I'm cared for, so to be able to give that same gift that I've been given all four years here to some other kid would be so cool."

awidmanneese@dispatch.com

@AlissaWidman