GRANDVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — A roller rink in Grandville is facing backlash after it hosted a homecoming dance that some parents are describing as racist.
“We’ll be hosting a multi-school dance party complete with DJ & sound system, laser light show & photo opportunities, help us spread the word!” the Facebook event from Tarry Hall Roller Skating Rink said, according to screenshots sent to News 8.
“This exclusive event is welcoming all current high school students with a valid student ID from the following schools,” it said, followed by a list of 11 area high schools.
People on social media and viewers who reached out to News 8 pointed out schools invited to the Saturday event are all predominantly white, while more diverse schools were not included on the list.
“It’s very clear what schools were invited and it seems like it was mainly directed toward race,” said Abby Cuevas, who has two students at Wyoming Public Schools and a recent Wyoming High School graduate. “I am not one to pull the race card, but … it couldn’t have been more clear.”
In a Facebook post after the event, Tarry Hall Roller Skating Rink said the amount of schools listed were limited due to capacity restrictions. It said the schools were selected based on past support, not demographics.
“Due to capacity restrictions, inviting every surrounding school is simply not possible,” the roller rink said. “We invited the local schools who have supported our rink through booking events and school parties since we saved Tarry Hall Roller Rink in January of 2021.
“We are a privately owned business who put on a private event for our own high school kids, their friends, and the area schools who have continued to support our rink through these challenging times. School demographics were not entered into the equation on which schools to invite.”
But the superintendent of a high school just four miles down the road, Wyoming Public Schools, called the roller rink out for not inviting his school.
In a statement to News 8, Superintendent Craig Hoekstra said his district “has a long history of supporting and spending valuable resources at Tarry Hall Roller Rink.”
“We have hosted school skating parties and Team 21 events at the facility for many years. When our scholars asked, in advance, to participate in the Tarry Hall Roller Rink Homecoming event, they were denied,” Hoekstra wrote in the statement. “I have reached out to Tarry Hall Roller Rink and am awaiting a return call to better understand why our community was not included in this event but has been accepted in the past when we have hosted private events. Their unwillingness to provide clarity and engage in a conversation is highly disappointing and the optics of the situation are divisive versus bringing youth from different areas across the community together.”
Hoekstra pointed out other diverse local high schools that were not included: “East Kentwood, Godfrey-Lee, Godwin Heights, Kelloggsville, and Grand Rapids Public Schools.”
“The schools invited lack diversity and some are located further from Tarry Hall Roller Rink than the schools listed above,” he wrote.
The student population of Wyoming High School is about 28% white and 72% non-white, according to the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics. The invited schools averaged 85% white and 15% non-white:
- Allendale High School: 82% white, 18% non-white
- Byron Center High School: 82% white, 18% non-white
- Grandville Calvin Christian High School: 95% white, 5% non-white
- Grandville High School: 73% white, 27% non-white
- Hudsonville Freshman Building and Hudsonville High School: 88% white, 12% non-white
- Jenison High School: 82% white, 18% non-white
- South Christian High School: 95% white, 5% non-white
- Tri-Unity Christian School: 87% white, 13% non-white
- Unity Christian High School: 95% white, 5% non-white
- Wayland High School: 87% white, 13% non-white
- Zeeland East High School and Zeeland West High School: 88% white, 12% non-white
Parents of students at Wyoming Public Schools expressed concerns about the event.
“My junior, she’s like, ‘This sounds like a segregated event to me. What year are we living in?'” Abby Cuevas said.
Erin Albanese’s daughter is a student at Wyoming High School. She went to the event at the rink after Wyoming’s homecoming dance, which also took place on Saturday, as the guest of another student.
As she was looking up more information on the list, she said she also “noticed how these were all predominantly-white schools.”
“It was very concerning to me. I value diversity and inclusion very much,” Albanese said. “It’s why I send my kids to a diverse school district. … It was about capacity, which I don’t really understand what the issue there would be because you can just sell a certain number of tickets and then cap it.”
Megan Vitale, who has two children at Wyoming Public Schools, said she understands why people are concerned, but wants more information from the roller rink explaining its side of the story.
“I can see where they would consider it a racist thing but also I don’t think we have enough information,” she said. “I also see how it could be taken as offensive.”
She echoed Albanese’s suggestion, saying the roller rink could have had a first come, first serve policy and limited the amount of available tickets.
Tarry Hall has been under new ownership since around January 2021. In its Facebook post, it thanked those who attended the event.
“We’re thankful to our community for their ongoing support of our family-owned and operated business so we can continue to host these private events as well as our normal public skating sessions,” it said. “These first two years of purchasing and owning a recreation business in a post-pandemic world was a huge gamble for us. We are very grateful to everyone who comes to skate, dance, and support us in our passion to provide a fun and safe environment for both our own kids, families, and yours, hopefully for years to come!”
Its owners did not respond to News 8’s requests for an interview.
— Target 8 investigator Susan Samples contributed to this report.