Inclusivity as a Safe Space

Dec 31, 2017 by

Recent Education Headlines read like this:

The Incident

Dealing with race and bias incidents

Nooses and Swastikas

Looking back at 2017 schools have seen an increase in bullying and hate crimes sparking outrage. There is something eerily anachronistic about many of these cases.  Swastikas scrawled on bathroom stall walls.  Smiling students photographed holding freshly carved jack-o-lanterns emblazoned with the letters “KKK” and hallway battles between racially divided gangs seem like the headlines of another time, but sadly these incidents are a reality for many educators.  Data on the frequency and severity of racist or bias incidents is difficult to locate.  It is an unpleasant matter most school would rather not disclose, but according to many educators, the number of incidents involving bullying, racism and bias has increased dramatically in recent years.

The apparent rise in incidents of racism and bias reflects a national trend as conflict and confrontation among racial and cultural elements of American society increases. The rise of President Trump has certainly complicated the issue as many of his supporters espouse critical views of immigrants, minorities and the LGBTQ community. When so many Americans are taking to the streets or virtual communities of social media to promote their views, it should come as little surprise to see similar behavior in our learning communities.  For educators, the rise in social discord presents daunting challenges as the values of free expression and a quality education come into conflict. For the prepared education professional, racial and bias incidents present opportunities to foster and expand student learning.

Defining and Sustaining Community

The best way to deal with racist and bias incidents is prevention.  The best way to prevent racial issues is to develop a learning community where diversity and inclusion are matters of fact and more than aspirations.  The first step is understanding the learning community.  Teachers and administrators should constantly monitor the chatter in the hallways as well as the tone of classroom banter.  Don’t forget to include transportation personnel in this discussion as well.  As frustrating as social media may be, it is an essential tool in understanding the school culture beyond the physical building.  Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and a myriad of other social media platforms can inform school personnel of impending conflict or other trends before they manifest in the hallways and classrooms.  Monitor social media regularly or have someone in the building do this and report back to the school leadership team. Another crucial element of bias prevention is setting clear and high expectations.  When students are expected to maintain a learning environment free of biased slurs, intolerance becomes an anomaly.  Of course, the importance of modeling cannot be understated.  When a school leader takes the initiative to challenge bias in the classroom, hallways and break room, the importance of a bias free, open learning community is reinforced.

When It Happens

Sooner or later, most schools will face some sort of racial or bias incident.  It may be a hateful graffiti or an argument among students that escalated to a loud slur filled exchange or a well-intended prank that took an ugly turn.  Whatever the issue may be, it is bound to happen and a professional educator should be prepared to handle the situation however minor or severe.  First and foremost, attend to the safety and well-being of students and others involved in the incident.  Stabilize the situation and be prepared to denounce blatantly racist or biased behavior immediately.  Investigate the situation to determine the sequence of events and involved parties.  Be prepared to involve others in the investigation and resolution.  Depending on the specific matter at hand, other administrators or teachers, parents, students or community leaders may be able to provide insight to better understand the intricacies of an incident.  Be prepared to face media inquiries and communicate with the larger community to dispel rumors and promote transparency. This is related to the earlier priority of securing the safety and wellbeing of all involved, but anyone targeted by an act of hate or bias should be offered support as soon as feasible and appropriate.  Ultimately, school officials will be expected to pursue justice and promote healing in the wake of an incident of racism or bias.

The Long Struggle

As strange and troubling as the current climate of racial discord and bias may seem, there is reason for hope.  Not long ago, a swastika or racial epitaph on a desk warranted a call to the school custodian, not the local news affiliate.  The shouting match between two girls that devolved into a nasty barrage of hate speech is more than fodder for the rumor mill.  It’s now the click-bait on social media that will go viral in hours and project a global image of the school.  Although these incidents may even be on the rise, they are roundly criticized and denounced by the larger society.  Not long ago, they would likely be covered up by the learning community or simply disregarded as the foolishness of children.  In modern education, hatred has no home and that message is spreading to all.

Keywords: racism, tolerance, bias, bullying, social justice

Comment below on what steps your school or community is creating by being a proactive inclusive school environment.

References

Beswick, R. (1990). Racism in America’s Schools. ERIC Digest Series, Number EA 49. Retrieved from: http://www.ericdigests.org/pre-9215/racism.htm

Newkirk II, R. V. (2016, May 5). Racism by Any Other Name. The Atlantic. Retrieved from: http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/05/racism-commentary-obama-trump/481329/

Sacks, B. (2017, October 23). High Schools Are Dealing With Repeated Acts Of Racism And Students Are Concerned. Buzzfeed News. Retrieved from: http://www.buzzfeed.com/briannasacks/teens-at-these-high-schools-are-protesting-a-rise-in-racist?utm_term=.ryqMQwRDr#.mwomnDdR2

Tareen, S. (2017, November 11). From graffiti to Snapchat, schools react to racial incidents. Associated Press. Retrieved from: http://apnews.com/7bb08c22ccb84ccdaec3815a23edb55e

Southern Poverty Law Center. (2012). Responding to Hate and Bias at School. Teaching Tolerance. Retrieved from: http://www.tolerance.org/sites/default/files/general/Responding%20to%20Hate%20at%20School%20ONLINE_3.pdf

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