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A Don Ross Middle School student says she has had to deal with racism and harassment from fellow students and that the school administration has not done enough to quash it.
Grade 9 student Eliyana Stern, who is of Jamaican and Jewish descent, says she has endured racial slurs for more than two years at the school, but things came to a head in November when she was sent Snapchat messages while at school that read “F*ck N*ggers” and “F*ck Jews.”
Eliyana told The Chief the slurs were repeated so often prior to this incident that she almost “became numb to it.”
“It just makes me so sad how ignorant kids are,” Eliyana told The Chief.
Eliyana stressed that her goal in going public with her experience is to help make the school environment better for the students attending after her. She will be off to high school next year, leaving middle school behind.
In this case, Eliyana and her classmates were encouraged by a school official to delete the Snapchat messages, Eliyana’s mom, Sarah Stern, said, even though it was the only solid proof Eliyana had of the racism she had been experiencing for years. The family was later able to recover the deleted messages.
Eilyana said she wanted the administration to publicly acknowledge what was done to her, that it wasn’t right and for a plan for recurring assemblies that educate students on racism, its history and impact to be instituted at the school.
“The things I have gone through, I have never wanted to shame anyone, but to use it as a teaching tool for other kids who might be going through what I am going through,” she said.
“For people to realize things like this are not OK and they are not just small things that happen.”
The slur about being Jewish was also written on the family’s door at their home, according to Stern.
Of all the students at the school, Eliyana and her sister are two of about seven students who are “African-Canadian,” Stern said.
Lindsay Wilson, who also has a child at the middle school, said she has been privy to the situation with Eliyana.
“When I saw the Snapchat [picture] that was used to target Eli, it made my skin crawl,” she told The Chief. “How sad that this is still going on. How sad that Eli has to go to school feeling like a target because of the colour of her skin.”
Wilson and Eliyana’s mother told The Squamish Chief the school administration has not dealt with the racism effectively.
The school’s response
The school did not send home a letter the first day or weeks after the incident happened, Stern said, adding she believes this would have been an effective way of pointing out the wrong and advising parents to talk to their kids about racism and hate speech.
The school did send a letter to parents after Christmas, which was forwarded to The Chief, stating that the school’s code of conduct had been updated in the fall and that “it is very important that all community members understand that any incidences of racial slurs, hate speech, or discrimination of any kind will be taken seriously.”
But Stern would like the school to address the specific racism incidents that happened to her daughter.
“There is so much more, but at this point for us it’s not about being indignant and feeling wronged, but more so that we just want the school or school board to denounce what happened and what has happened since then – more hate speech, harassment, students belittling my daughter, saying she’s making a big deal out of nothing,” said Stern in an email.
Stern, however, said one teacher has made a significant effort to address the racism by discussing systemic and interpersonal racism in class.
Sea to Sky School District officials say they can’t discuss Eliyana’s case for privacy reasons but The Chief was supplied with some notes on District 48’s overall philosophy regarding bullying at school.
“Every child deserves an education free from discrimination, bullying, harassment, intimidation and violence,” reads an excerpt from the page-long email from school district Supt. Lisa McCullough.
Around 50 school staff, including teachers, have participated in critical training regarding bullying in schools, according to the email. District 48 has a suspension policy that puts an emphasis on “education and restoration in order to better ensure that infractions of this nature are well understood and repaired, and therefore, less likely to be repeated.”
What should schools do?
Stern points out the Snapchat incident happened shortly after Donald Trump was elected president south of the border.
As incidents rippled through schools across the U.S., school administrations came out to say publicly “this happened in our school, we don’t accept it, it is wrong and it is going to be dealt with,” Stern said.
“All Eli wanted was for the principal of the school to tell the kids, ‘Yes, I know this happened, it was wrong.’”
Howard Stevenson, a clinical psychologist and professor of Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania, is an expert on racism in schools and advises that school administrations talk openly with all students about incidents of racism before and after they happen.
“If you can’t talk about it, you can’t prevent it from happening again,” he told The Chief. Students often feel as much or more pain from not being supported by adults in the school than from the actual racial incident, Stevenson said.
“Talking about race can be stressful. No one wants to say the wrong thing or be seen as one who always raises the issue, who always challenges the dominant narrative,” Stevenson said in an article he co-wrote called Engaging the Racial Elephant.
“However, school communities that dismiss racial concerns or push them under the rug undermine progress in diversity efforts, damage the school culture and climate, and take away from the essential work of preparing all students to live fully in the world.”
School administrators should think of incidents of racism as an opportunity to teach, rather than as a threat, he said.
For more on how schools can confront hate speech at school go to http://www.gse.upenn.edu/news/educators-playbook/how-confront-hate-speech-school.