Responding to Hate and Bias at School
Section One: Before a Crisis Occurs
Stay Current, Stay Connected
Bias-based social media cases involving students have already made it into U.S. and Canadian courtrooms. Cyberbullying, once a new term, is now a common one. Some schools have or are considering policies or agreements around Facebook use.
“We have kindergartners with Facebook accounts,” said Dawn DuPree Kelley, an Alabama school principal. And when more than two-thirds of youths have cell phones—on which they are more likely to text than talk—and more than 90 percent of youths are active online, other platforms, beyond Facebook, come into play.
Enter Instagram. Tumblr. Digg. StumbleUpon, Fark, foursquare and reddit. These are all new tools, and all potential new outlets for bias-based bullying and bigoted cyber interactions among students.
Add to that the advent of online commentary, which can be vicious and bigoted, exposing young people to dehumanizing invective across the Web on a daily basis. And, of course, there’s the casual bigotry found in various forms of music.
The landscape is dizzying.
Your job, as a school administrator, isn’t necessarily to know every hill and valley of that landscape. But you must stay abreast of new avenues, as they arise, and make sure they’re not infiltrating your school community with biased and bigoted messages. It might be the racist and misogynistic impact of “gangsta rap” at one school, and the antigay messages heard in so-called “murder music” at another. Or it might be Photoshopped pictures of a targeted student at one school, posted on a “burn page,” and it might be a texting campaign targeting a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) or LGBT-perceived student at another school.
Keep your focus on behaviors. What are students doing with these social-media platforms or these songs? The objectives are to keep up with trends and innovations, to be vigilant against biased or bigoted behaviors and not to bury your head in the sand.
Know how students use social media, know how to monitor and set expectations around that usage and decide how to respond when these platforms are used to harm a student or target a group of students. Avail yourself of resources that address the many aspects of this issue.
The Anti-Defamation League offers resources around school-based Internet issues.
A pilot program from Seattle Public Schools focuses on prevention and parental engagement.
The Cyberbullying Research Center offers updated information about the nature, extent, causes and consequences of cyberbullying, with an assortment of downloadable resources.
The New York Times provides an array of resources on cyberbullying (as well as bullying), including case studies and lesson plans.
MTV’s “A Thin Line” is a youth-directed campaign to raise awareness about how what seems like a harmless joke can end up having serious repercussions.
Wired Safety is one of the longest running online safety organizations. Its Tween and Teen Angel programs empower youths to lead presentations on responsible use of social media and online technology.