Responding to Hate and Bias at School
Section One: Before a Crisis Occurs
What's the School Climate?
Unsavory pranks, bias incidents and even hate crimes can happen at any school, anywhere—rural, urban, suburban, public, private, small, large, East, West, North or South. Sometimes they arrive as a complete surprise; other times, they arise from tension that has been brewing for weeks, months, even years.
So what is the climate at your school?
Everyday acts of intolerance manifest themselves in many ways: name-calling, slurs, sexual harassment, casual putdowns regarding race, ethnicity, gender, size, abilities, perceived sexual orientation or gender identification. The bias might come in the form of clothing—certain colors or styles—or music or symbols associated with hate groups. Growing intolerance can also be found online, posted on Tumblr or tweeted on Twitter. It might be blatant, such as a noose left hanging from an African-American student’s locker. Or it might be subtle, a hushed rumor texted like a whisper, phone to phone, person to person.
In some cases, the viciousness is intentional; in others, perpetrators might have little clue—other than shock value—about the meaning behind the words, signs and symbols they shout, tweet, paint or text. In many ways, the issue is less about intent—who can know for certain why someone does something?—and
more about impact. No matter the intention, these messages and behaviors can cause fear, damage and injury to individuals and the entire school community.
How can educators deal with this? The adults at any school teach in so many ways, far beyond textbooks and lesson plans. They teach by example, by the tone and words they choose, by how they treat others during moments of disagreement or tension. They teach by what they don’t say. If, for example, they allow a bigoted comment to go unchecked, they are offering tacit approval of similar comments.
A school climate that encourages inclusion and promotes tolerance does not guarantee that bias incidents won’t happen. Instead, it creates an atmosphere in which these acts are less likely to gain momentum and more likely to be quickly and widely denounced.