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'You don’t talk like a white person': Easthampton mayor releases audio of classroom remarks

Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle (center) chats with residents outside the high school, where voting in all five city precincts took place on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021.
Kevin Gutting
Daily Hampshire Gazette / gazettenet
Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle (center) chats with residents outside the high school, where voting in all five city precincts took place on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021.

A controversy continues in Easthampton, Massachusetts, over remarks Mayor Nicole LaChapelle made to high schoolers.

The mayor last month was offering advice on public speaking to students preparing for a civics competition. She made this comment to a student, according to an audio file released by the mayor’s office:

“You get so worried about how you present — like your cadence, um, is a little, it, it’s not white. Like, you don’t talk like a white person, alright? And that’s fine,” LaChapelle said. “But what you have to do with your physical presence is say, like, 'Who f---ing cares?' I had a tough morning, I’m sorry.”

The recording picks up laughter from some in the room.

LaChapelle has apologized more than once for the remarks, which the parent of a child involved called "racist" in a since-deleted Facebook posting.

Emily Thurlow, a reporter with the Daily Hampshire Gazette, has been covering the story.

Emily Thurlow, Daily Hampshire Gazette: On March 30, Mayor LaChapelle was invited as a judge for a practice session for the "We the People" civics class at the Easthampton High School. When judges are invited, they're typically offering perspective and just judging how a student delivers for this. The competition itself deals with the U.S. Constitution and questions, and in Easthampton, they have a class for it, in addition to preparing for the competition, which is state and national. And Easthampton happened to be accepted into nationals this year.

Adam Frenier, NEPM: And these remarks became public a few days after they were made. And the mayor did apologize, but that didn't stop the Easthampton School Committee from launching an investigation. Where does that stand now?

It's hard to say where it's at. One School Committee member had said he was unsure about the status and that he thought that — this was Marin Goldstein — there might be a further opportunity to sit down with the mayor and discuss it. But I haven't heard from the School Committee chair yet, from her perspective on the investigation.

What's the reaction been like by the School Committee and by the public over these comments?

The School committee had generated a statement related to that, speaking out about how they felt it went. They felt that her timing and lack of response right away was inexcusable. They called it unacceptable. From their records, they're saying that she responded five days too late.

And from the mayor's perspective, she's saying that she responded as soon as she was notified of something being wrong. So the timeline is a little iffy, because both sides are saying different things.

And you reported about a recording of LaChapelle's remarks existing. And since then, a spokesperson for the mayor released the recording to reporters with the mayor saying the school community has the right to form their own conclusions after listening to it. What do you think the strategy by LaChapelle might be here?

I couldn't say. My opinion really doesn't matter on that. But it's up to the School Committee if they were to release something like that, because it does involve a child.

Copyright 2022 New England Public Media. To see more, visit New England Public Media.

Adam is based at New England Public Radio’'s Berkshire County news bureau in Pittsfield, where he has been since August, 2015. He joined NEPR as a freelance reporter and fill-in operations assistant during the summer of 2011. For more than 15 years, Adam has had a number stops throughout his broadcast career, including as a news reporter and anchor, sports host and play-by-play announcer as well as a producer and technician.

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