by Julia Robins ’20
In October, a student in Jewish Student Union (JSU) received an offensive anti-Semitic note. After discussion in their club meeting, it soon became apparent that hate speech, including racism and homophobia, is an issue at Sherwood. This prompted special education teacher Jill Galt, JSU’s sponsor, to hold a multi-club discussion on Thursday, January 9, on the topic of hurtful and offensive language.
More than 50 students from JSU, Amnesty International, Best Buddies, Black Student Union, Stand Proud, Minority Scholars, Rising Stars, and Latin Dance Club attended this seminar. One goal of the meeting was to encourage students to stand up in response to offensive remarks. Students at the meeting spoke of incidents when teachers and administration did not effectively address instances of intolerance. Beyond simply the issue of those who choose to hurt others, many students feel that administration and security can improve upon giving out consistent consequences for these attacks.
“It was heartbreaking to hear so many stories from students who experienced forms of hate speech from fellow students or implicit bias from staff,” said science teacher Mary Baker, who is the sponsor of Stand Proud. “Many students said they get told, ‘that’s just a joke’ when they point something out as hurtful or bigoted. This should not be tolerated or passed off as ‘they don’t really mean it.’ Students said they were afraid to call out staff for ignoring slurs,” she added.
Created in 2002, JSU has aimed to create a sense of community within the Jewish population at Sherwood, but the club is eager to welcome anyone to conquer concerns regarding inclusivity. “People make offensive Jewish jokes and think it is okay because the person they’re talking to doesn’t happen to be Jewish,” said junior Megan Lang, president of JSU. “People tell Jews that ‘they have a big nose’ or ‘they have a Jew nose.’ People see coins on the ground and ask a Jew ‘Why don’t you pick it up because Jews always want money?’”
Anti-LGBTQ expressions are also hurtful and often integrated into everyday conversation, like the phrase “that’s so gay”. Senior Samantha Pacheco of Stand Proud shared a story of the time when “a person in my class was calling something gay … so I turned around and said to them ‘hi, you called for a homosexual.’ And the look on their face was priceless. Little acts like that can mean a lot to people who are still closeted,” she commented.
The end result from the January 9 meeting was the consensus and agreement that there needs to be an updated policy and specific training for all teachers on the topic of hate speech, as well as specific punishments. According to Joshua Ginsburg, co-president of JSU, “People say anti-Semitic and racial comments daily and face no consequences. We’re not asking for expulsion, but for the people saying these statements to face some repercussions,” he explained. “Words are hurtful and can stick with people forever. That’s what I think the main goal of what the discussion was. We’re trying to relate to each other to help us all work as one unit to end these acts of hate speech.”
“An educator’s ultimate goal should be to create a safe and positive learning environment for all students,” said Galt. “We [JSU] will have at least two more meetings. The next meeting we will continue the discussion regarding hate speech incidents within the school. We will also start a discussion about communication with administration and security about established protocol regarding bullying and hate speech along with how victims are informed about the ongoing investigations regarding these incidences.”