Less than a week after graduation, Berkeley High School students were reportedly asked to return their yearbooks due to an offensive comment orchestrated by an unknown prankster.
On a page of the yearbook devoted to a program in the high school called the Academy of Medicine and Public Service, a blurb read, "making our future doctors, dentists, nurses, physicians, fire chiefs, and trash collators [sic] of tomorrow."
Most believe "trash collators" was meant to say "trash collectors," and that the prank was racially charged, as the majority of students in the program are black or Latino.
The line, NBC Bay Area reported, was originally supposed to say "innovators of tomorrow."
Mark Coplan of the Berkeley Unified School District told NBC Bay Area that they had collected most of the yearbooks and were placing stickers with the originally intended words over the offensive phrase.
Administrators plan on returning the books to their rightful owners so the students will not loose each other's signatures, he said.
School officials are reportedly investigating who might have been behind this prank, and why the words were approved for publication after being changed. They said if they can find those responsible for the change they will face punishment.
BuzzFeed News reached out to Berkeley High School on Saturday, but no administrators were immediately available for comment.
Many students expressed offense at the message to news outlets and on social media, but some said they were not surprised as racism is common on campus.
A student told NBC Bay Area that the program, which used to be called Community Partnership Academy, was referred to by many students as "Colored People Academy."
"The occupation was not offensive, but naming it in connection with AMPS was a malicious attempt to attack students who fight hard to prove themselves," someone posted anonymously on Twitter."This act is consistent reminder that no matter how much we achieve, we will always be the color of our skin."
"I'll always know that sticker is there," graduating senior Robael Gizachew said. "That kinda hurts."
Students involved in the program released a statement on Friday, saying that the incident proves discrimination is "alive and well" at the school.
In the statement, which was provided to BuzzFeed News, the students said they wanted to address those who think the incident was not a big deal.
"We hear outsiders ask, 'What's wrong with being a trash collector, it's an honest job,'" they said. "The occupation was not offensive, but naming it in connection with AMPS was a malicious attempt to attack students who fight so hard to prove themselves. And this act is consistent reminder that no matter how much we achieve, we will still be reminded of the color of our skin."
The students said that, despite the "stereotypes," 96% of the program's graduates went on to college in 2014.
"In all honesty, it is very saddening that we will spend our lives proving our worth, but it's an even harder blow that we will have to begin proving ourselves in the institution that is supposed to protect us," the students said.
Ema O'Connor is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Ema O'Connor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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