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Opinion: Help Squamish youth address hate speech, adults

The school administration can still take a big role in combatting hate speech.
hate speech hurts
Columnist Emily Rice says she sees a lot of hate speech among high school students in Squamish and she wants the administration to do something about it.
Hate speech is a massive problem at Howe Sound Secondary, where I am a Grade 12 student.

I see whole communities get undermined daily by the kids who are supposed to be leading the woke generation.

Not only does this make students feel unsafe in the school, but it also normalizes the use of slurs.

I see specific acts of discrimination that can be eradicated only if the perpetrators listen when we tell them their words hurt.

The everyday use of hate speech is evidence of the ignorance present in high-school-age students. Instead of merely presenting students with information and telling them their actions are wrong, teachers and other staff should also be educated on how to combat the problem of hate speech at school.

Youth being subjected to this sort of treatment in an environment in which they spend most of their time contributes to low self-esteem and may cause them to feel alienated.

Kids who are being subjected to discrimination may be impacted for the rest of their lives.

I have witnessed my peers using homophobic slurs and the N-word racial slur.

I have also heard students using fake Black accents to entertain their friends.

We do have some resources available to help LGBTQ2S+ students who feel unsafe or unwelcome. However, these resources are not openly advertised to students.

I wasn’t aware that our school had a sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) representative until the end of my Grade 11 year. SOGI is an organization that helps educators make schools safe and inclusive for LGBTQ2S+ students.

The last time I felt that we received any education about the LGBTQ2S+ community was in Grade 10 in a “Queering Sex Ed” class taught very well by sexual health educator Kristin Trotter.

Unfortunately, not all students got access to that class. In that one class, I did feel we had a little bit of progress.

Chris Nicholson, assistant superintendent at SD48, told me that in Career-Life Education, we do cover our own cultural backgrounds and the class also offers an opportunity to share others’ stories.

He said that the school board stands very strongly and clearly in support of inclusion.

That may be true, but it is not getting through at the student level.

Nicholson also wanted me to encourage those in my peer group to stand up for what they believe in and to invite those using discriminatory language into the discussion in order to help them understand their impact on those around them.

We are lucky to have our Racial Justice Club led by Lucy Gill this year and our Social Justice class, as well as the small amount of coverage we see in career classes. These are great ways to get educated on problems in the school, but unfortunately, a large percentage of the student body does not engage in them.

I found Social Justice 12 to be very enlightening, but unfortunately, there is only one class available throughout the whole year. I believe social justice should be mandatory in our school somehow. Unfortunately, as Mr. Nicholson informed me, the SD48 school board does not control what classes are mandatory; the provincial government does.

The school administration can still take a big role in combatting hate speech at school, I think.

 If those who don’t take the initiative are not educated by the school or by anybody else in their lives, their harmful behaviour will not be rectified.

This problem is only growing, and the students of Howe Sound Secondary deserve better treatment than this.

In such a small community, it’s much easier to fall victim to such treatment and feel helpless. I’m speaking out because it’s hard for many students to stand up for themselves due to fear of further torment.

The current climate of racism, transphobia, homophobia, etc, is bad enough. Our generation should not be carrying this mindset into the future. It’s about time our school stood up to the discrimination within our own walls. I want the community of Squamish to see this; I want parents to see this and be enraged, and I want the rest of the community to realize these social ills are still incredibly prevalent. I hope that I encourage some of you to act and to recognize your personal biases as well.

Emily Rice is a Grade 12 student at Howe Sound Secondary. She is currently a student intern at The Squamish Chief.