Editor’s note: Because many students with marginalized identities find their bullying or harassment go unreported or unrepresented, we know we are not seeing every incident of hate and bias in U.S. schools. So we’re asking for your help. If you know of a school-based incident of hate or bias, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In December, news outlets reported 37 incidents of hate in U.S. schools, spanning 21 states from New York to California, from Washington to Florida.
For the second consecutive month, we saw a decline in reported hate incidents in schools. We found 50 such incidents in November and nearly 90 in October. But taking into account that most hate-related events go unnoticed by news media and that reporting was affected by the holiday season—when most schools close for considerable time and many media outlets feature smaller staffs—the number is still remarkably high.
And while the number of reported hate incidents decreased near the close of the year, some of the events we tracked in December were especially severe.
Here are the trends we saw among those 37 occurrences:
- More than two-thirds took place in high schools.
- At least 25 percent started on social media.
- Graffiti or vandalism was involved in 15.
- Nearly one-third featured the swastika symbol.
- Massachusetts had by far the most reported incidents (10), followed by North Carolina (three).
The hate incidents that originated or fermented on social media proved particularly disturbing—and they often inspired counteraction by concerned students. In Brownsville, Tennessee, high school baseball players allegedly exchanged a series of threatening messages on Snapchat. The messages suggested finding black students to “hang.” Why? To “make an example out of them.” After the messages went public, students protested and the school’s principal and vice principal were suspended without pay.
In Brookline, Massachusetts, current and former students made two videos featuring prolific use of the n-word. In one, the slur was directed at a man driving a group of white students. Another was sent to a member of the school’s African American Scholars program. The incidents inspired a student walkout. Said one first-year student of his school’s administration, “I want them to accept it’s racism. I want them to say it’s racism.”
In Hattiesburg, Mississippi, six students’ names accompanied a disgusting threat: “…help me hang them [n-words] and you won’t get hung.” And in Elk Grove, California, a video posted to social media went viral. Among other things, the student in the video said, “Black people are trash; they need to die.”
Unfortunately, threats like this one are also occurring on school grounds. An all-boys Catholic school in Towson, Maryland, closed for a day after finding threatening graffiti in a bathroom: “No [n-words] better be here come Thursday.” In Commerce, Georgia, names were listed on a bathroom stall beneath the heading, “[N-words] to eliminate.”
These racially charged threats pose physical and psychological risks for targeted students, and they require strong condemnation and swift action from school leaders. Too often, such threats are met with silence or with solutions developed and implemented behind closed doors.
Faced with frightening racial slurs, a black student in Salem, Massachusetts, informed the school administration. Their unwillingness to publicly denounce the act left students of color feeling forgotten and undervalued. More than 100 students staged a walkout in response.
We are heartened by students’ collective action, but disheartened by the fact that it is necessary. We are disheartened that so many students feel their schools are failing them.
The stories pile up. A student who led a campaign to change the name of her high school arrives at school one day to find her name and the n-word painted on a rock outside. A 12-year-old girl in Washington says she is regularly bullied and subjected to racial slurs because she is black. The n-word and swastikas appear on bathroom walls, school property and social media post after post.
These stories represent a sample of the hate incidents we tracked this month. And those incidents themselves are just a small sample of the total number of hate incidents, too often unreported, that continue to harm students and school communities across the country.
Teaching Tolerance will continue tracking hate incidents at schools on a monthly basis, and we will continue our work to help schools counter hate and bias every day.
Collins is the senior writer for Teaching Tolerance.