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5 JUNE 1999
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Hate-motivated behaviour

Dina Hatchuel

As we work at the complex issues of diversity, tolerance and intolerance in our own schools and institutions, we listen in on others' attempts to manage destructive behaviour and what lies behind it. Dina Hatchuel sent us this report on work done by the Almeda County Office of Education in California.

California children are inheriting a society more multicultural and multiracial than ever before witnessed in modern history. This rich and diverse society brings the benefits of wider participation and vision as well as new and exciting challenges. Yet with these gifts of diversity, there sometimes comes ugly intolerance of cultural and racial differences.

Hate-motivated behaviour, whether in the form of racial conflicts, graffiti, or hate slurs, are becoming more evident on school campuses in too many communities. From school boards to classroom teachers, there is an urgent call to respond to hate-motivated behaviour in all its forms in schools and their surrounding communities.

Our schools have a constitutional and moral obligation to protect children on campus and to maintain a safe, secure learning environment. Addressing hate-motivated behaviour is an important part of this obligation. However, schools cannot meet this obligation alone. Law enforcement, government, business, and the community as a whole must join in an effort to keep schools free of hate-motivated incidents.

A working definition

An incident of hate-motivated behaviour is any act or attempted act intended to cause emotional suffering, physical injury, or property damage through intimidation, harassment, bigoted slurs or epithets, force or threat of force, or vandalism motivated in part or in whole by hostility toward the victim's real or perceived ethnicity, national origin, immigrant status, religious belief, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, political affiliation, race, or any other physical or cultural characteristic.

Having a common definition of hate-motivated behaviour enables schools and law enforcement agencies to develop a reporting system to document these behaviours.

Hate-motivated behaviour may also be a crime – and such acts must be reported to the appropriate law enforcement agency. When criminal acts are determined to be motivated by hate, they become hate crimes. However, some hate-motivated behaviours, including taunting and intimidation, may not be interpreted as crimes and, as a result, could go unreported. Nevertheless, such acts of hate-motivated behaviour should be considered as serious as hate crimes because they can be as emotionally damaging as any hate crime and can have long-lasting effects on students and teachers.

Dealing with hate-motivated behaviour
Everyone who has an impact on students and the school community plays a role – members of the board of education, district and school staff parents, and law enforcement personnel. Ultimately, success will rely on interdependent action. Hate-motivated behaviour is an important issue for everyone. If parents, students, school staff members, and representatives of the local community know that you are serious about addressing hate crimes, they will listen, learn, and participate in scheduled activities. Publicising the school's commitment to hate crime prevention is the key to successfully involving everyone.

Following through with plans and promises is the key to keeping all partners involved. Many share this responsibility. Parents need to model the appropriate behaviour of respect for others and appreciation for diversity throughout the lives of their children. Students must take responsibility for their own behaviour and meet conduct standards established by their school and society in general.

Breaking the cycle of bullying
Bullying is perhaps the most underrated problem in our schools and can be motivated by prejudice, intolerance, or hate. Whether bullying evidences itself in name calling, teasing and harassment, extortion of lunch money, harsh pranks, orjostling in a hallway, victims often are left with emotional tears long after the incident. Many adults vividly remember a school-yard bully from their own childhood, often by name. Research shows that allowing bullying to go unchecked opens up a Pandora's box of school-day, adolescent, and adult criminality.

Teachers, principals, counsellors, parents, grandparents and extended family members should model behaviour for children which promotes dignity, respect, and appreciation of diversity for people from all backgrounds and cultures.

It is the school's responsibility to ensure that established standards of behaviour are followed. Standards should promote respect for all people and for oneself. School personnel must demonstrate to students that each person is valued as are all cultural differences brought from home to school.

Use the teachable moment
Teachers need to be trained to recognize and appropriately respond to hate-motivated incidents that occur in their groups. When teachers are aware of such acts and are comfortable responding to them, they can use this teachable moment to help students understand the damage and hurt that can be brought about by such behaviour.

A suggested prevention process might contain the following:

Schools must have a clear set of procedures to follow when responding to hate-motivated incidents. Steps that ensure the safety of the victim, provide for appropriate disciplinary action for the perpetrator, and establish a standardized reporting system are important procedures to have in place at every school.

Responses could be timed as follows:

Immediately: Stop the behaviour and address the problem. Discuss the incident with the student(s) involved and interview possible witnesses. Provide immediate and reasonable consequences for the perpetrator (based on school guidelines).

The same day: Provide immediate staff response to all reports of hatemotivated incidents. Request assistance, if necessary. Get assistance for the teacher if he or she is uneasy in dealing with this issue. Disseminate accurate information across the campus before rumours spread. Provide victims of hate-motivated behaviour crime with support and assistance, including referral to victim support agencies, if appropriate. Inform the victim's and perpetrator's parents that the school is taking the incident seriously.

As soon as possible: Proceed with appropriate disciplinary action, follow-up activities with the students, staff, and community, etc.

Casting seeds of harmony
Reducing hate-motivated behaviour requires selfless acts by caring adults who may never receive direct acknowledgement of their efforts. We may cast seeds of harmony throughout the lives of our children. But no matter how carefully we tend the seeds, they might not bear fruit in our lifetime. Tomorrow's youths may never know that we were the ones who planted the seeds in the first place, yet their future world will be better because of our actions today. – Hilda Quiroz

The victims and perpetrators
Embarrassment or fear of retribution often prevents the student from reporting the incident. Staff members must strive to maintain an atmosphere of trust, safety, and confidentiality so that students feel comfortable sharing their experiences. School staff should provide support to a student victimized by hate-motivated behaviour – but there are more victims.

A crime against one can affect the entire community. Other students in the school often become the secondary victims in a hate-motivated incident. They may feel as threatened as the victim and require the same support. Administrators and staff must assure students that their school is a safe, friendly place where they can learn. Staff should also know how to work with a student who has perpetrated a hate-motivated act to promote rehabilitation and higher levels of awareness.

A sample policy
An established board policy is critical to the successful prevention. An example: “It is the intent of this school to promote harmonious human relationships that enable students to gain a true understanding of the rights and duties of people in our society."

The school is responsible for creating an environment that fosters positive attitudes and practices among students and staff. In addition, the school is responsible for creating and protecting an environment that mitigates against anxiety producing or demeaning incidents taking place within the confines of the school. These incidents include, but are not limited to, those targeting members of a particular race, ethnicity, religion, sex, disability, or sexual orientation.

It is our intent to provide an environment that further allows persons to realize their full individual potential through an understanding and appreciation of the society's diversity of race, ethnicity, religion, and sexual orientation. To accomplish this objective, the district will be accountable through a visible commitment to human rights.

This feature: Hate-Motivated Behaviour in Schools: Response Strategies for School Boards, Administrators, Law Enforcement, and Communities. Alameda County Office of Education, California Department of Education, 1997.

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