Equity & Diversity

Targeted by Slurs, Students Ride Wave of Support to Robotics Championship

By Corey Mitchell — April 26, 2017 2 min read
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A team of Latino and black 4th-graders who were targeted by racial slurs after winning a city robotics competition rode a wave of public support all the way to the world championships.

The Panther Bots, a five-student team from Indianapolis’ Pleasant Run Elementary School, had just wrapped a stellar performance during a regional event in their hometown when students from other schools screamed at them to “Go back to Mexico!” in the parking lot, the Indianapolis Star reported.

“They were pointing at us and saying, ‘Oh my God, they are champions of the city all because they are Mexican. They are Mexican and they are ruining our country,’ ” the mother of one of the students told the newspaper.

The team went on to win several awards during the Indiana state championship, earning a shot to compete at the Vex IQ Robotics World Championship in Louisville, Ky., over the last few days.

As news of the racial taunts spread across the country, cheers for the students’ engineering know-how and grit attracted support that drowned out the jeers they’d heard in that parking lot.

State legislators hosted them at the state capitol. Fundraisers drew tens of thousands in donations, enough to pay for their travel expenses and equipment. And the Washington Post reported that letters and other tokens of support from well-wishers praising their determination poured in from around the country.

Robotics team coach Lisa Hopper told the Star that the students were targeted because “they’re just not used to seeing a team like our kids.”

“They see us and they think we’re not going to be competition,” she added.

Alas, the trip to the world championships in Louisville didn’t have a storybook ending: the Panther Bots advanced all the way to the division finals, placing ninth, before they were eliminated.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.