Two TikTok videos of Carmel High School went viral at the beginning of February. The videos showcased the many different facilities available at CHS and the sheer size of the high school. As a result, many conversations on social media surrounding the idea of CHS being too rich or questioning if it is ethical for the high school to have this much money. As a CHS alumna, I can easily say that the more important question is not if it is ethical, but why is it unethical?
Prior to attending the University of Indianapolis, I had lived in the same house in Carmel my entire life. I grew up watching the expensive changes Mayor Jim Brainard made (including spending millions of dollars on the city’s infrastructure, according to the IndyStar), and some of my earliest memories are of construction sites for roundabouts. In the fourth grade, my parents transferred me and my siblings into the Carmel Clay School system after going to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, a private catholic school on the Carmel-Westfield border, since Kindergarten because we could no longer afford it after the 2008 recession.
I am well aware that Carmel and its residents are predominantly white and very affluent, considering the median household income is $119,772, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. During my adolescence, I was surrounded by peers who lived in large, luxurious houses, could always afford the newest clothes from high-end brands and drove Teslas and sports cars. Meanwhile, I rarely invited friends over whose parents were in a higher tax bracket because I was embarrassed by my house (which is honestly a perfectly good-sized home, but my perceptions were very distorted as a pre-teen surrounded by much wealthier friends). My siblings and I spent several years eating free-and-reduced lunches. My parents worked multiple jobs and my mother tirelessly studied for years in order to earn her doctorate so her children could receive free education at UIndy as a perk of her being a professor. I would not have been able to afford college otherwise and she will be in debt until the day she dies. Even so, I understand I am more well-off than other families.
The point is, I understand what it’s like to envy the kids that live in Carmel, even though I was one of those kids myself. It’s hard not to when you see 15-year-olds running around with Louis Vuitton purses while your parents struggle to keep their house. But why are many of the families in Carmel so affluent to the point that the property taxes they pay are used to create a state-of-the-art high school with a population almost as large as UIndy (CHS’ student population is 5,414, according to the Indiana Department of Education, and UIndy’s population is 5,600, according to the university’s website)? The answer is white flight, a phenomenon that resulted from white people moving out of predominantly minority-populated areas and neighborhoods into the suburbs, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
Downtown Indianapolis in particular has a rich history of Black culture and historically Black neighborhoods, according to an article from The Reflector, and during the 1970s Hamilton County saw an increase in demand as white people, higher-income households and those with a college education moved out of Marion County, according to Savi.org. And with more families that fit these criteria moving into the area as a result of white flight, as well as the different improvements Mayor Brainard has made to the city since 1995, the increase of the city’s wealth doesn’t come as a surprise. Throughout my adolescence, I watched as more and more luxurious homes were built over old farmland on the West side of Carmel, which would ultimately lead to higher property taxes that could funnel into Carmel’s public school system. Since the city only has one public high school, a lot of funding is available for improvement.
While the affluence of CHS is a result of systemic racism because of phenomena like white flight, that doesn’t mean racism isn’t still prevalent there today. More than 70% of students at CHS are white and 3.6% are Black, according to NBCNews, and groups like Unify Carmel are working to prevent the Carmel Clay school system from using certain methods, such as supposed critical race theory, to teach about race and racism, according to the Carmel Current. I certainly heard more than enough racist remarks thrown around by students during my four years at CHS that ultimately went unnoticed by school officials, mostly because there are so few Black students that no one would have reported it.
CHS and all of its programs and amenities certainly seem excessive, especially in comparison to school systems that do not even receive the amount of funding needed to maintain facilities. CHS is still expanding today with its most recent addition being a renovation of the school’s auditorium. While I am grateful for all of the opportunities that were provided to me because I attended CHS, it’s also important to acknowledge why the students have access to these amenities and how we got here. For schools in the Indianapolis Public School system, even a fraction of the amount of funding that CHS receives could change lives. Maybe its time to consider if cities like Carmel should be sending their money elsewhere.