Hamilton high school student fired from co-op placement over ‘OK’ hand gesture
A 17-year old student was fired earlier this month from a hospital co-op after her employer claimed that she made a gesture of white supremacy in a photo on social media. The symbol is typically perceived to mean “OK.”
“It wasn’t meant to be racist and it wouldn’t happen again. I thought it means ‘OK.’ Like a thumbs-up sign,” the student, named Megan Breeze, told the Hamilton Spectator.
Breeze told the Hamilton Spectator that she did not know the symbol could be interpreted as racist. “They said it was a racist sign. I didn’t know. I was accused of being a racist,” she said and continued, “I wasn’t given much information except I was being kicked out of my co-op.”
She had been accepted into a co-op program with Juravinski Hospital where her duties included tasks like working in customer service at the hospital and among patients in the general medicine unit. “It was great. I was really excited. I really wanted to do that co-op.” she said.
Things went south for Breeze when the teacher who interviewed her took a photo of her and four other students in which she made the hand symbol.
That photo was later posted to social media, and soon after it was posted, Breeze’s parents got a phone call from the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB), saying they needed to come into a meeting. The Hamilton Health Services (HHS) said a community member submitted a tip regarding Breeze, accusing her of racism.
HHS spokesperson Wendy Stewart said, “We informed the school board when we were made aware of the posts in early October. As the pictures in the posts were taken at HHS sites, we acted decisively to emphasize that we expect all persons who come to our sites, regardless of whether they are an employee, patient, visitor or vendor to behave in a manner that ensures everyone at HHS feels respected, safe and welcome.”
School board spokesperson Shawn McKillop said that the details of the situation were being kept confidential. “A community member noticed an unacceptable symbol in a social media post and reported it to HWDSB and program partner, Hamilton Health Sciences,” McKillop said.
McKillop added, “The symbol, which can be interpreted as promoting hate, does not align with HWDSB’s commitment to equity and inclusion. Symbols of hate that promote racism or white supremacy ideology are not tolerated in HWDSB or anywhere in our community. The image was immediately taken down.”