Kingswood Oxford hosted this year’s Strategic Partnerships, Strategic Vision for Connecting with Communities of Color (SPHERE)
event with over 200 educators in attendance this Tuesday. SPHERE is a consortium of independent schools in the Hartford area who focus programming on equity issues. Marji Lipshez-Shapiro and Michelle Pincince of the Anti-Defamation League presented an interactive talk entitled “Creating Safe and Brave Spaces: Responding to Hate and Bias Incidents in Schools.” Lipshez-Shapiro said the role of the ADL is not to judge a school for the negative instance because they will happen. Rather, the ADL advises schools on how to create positive school environments and helps schools address problems as they occur.
As reported cases of hate crimes are on the rise, this discussion was critically important to face these issues head-on and avoid the “lumpy carpets” - a tendency for organizations to sidestep a situation and pretend it’s not real. Acknowledging the record attendance of the event, KO’s Director of Equity, Inclusion and Cultural Competency Joan Edwards exhorted the attendees to disrupt and transform their school environments courageously and intentionally and to hold a space for every child.
This particular session rose from discussions with diversity educators and heads of school over the past year to make schools a safe space every day. “Collectively, we are going to make change,” said Edwards.
Pincince said no school is immune to negative behaviors, and the ADL
has seen examples in urban, rural, independent, public, and non-secular schools. She cited bias incidents (non-criminal acts against a person or group motivated by bias toward a protected class (race, religion, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression) that ranged from blackface, nooses, Nazi salutes, to anti-gay memes. Schools need to recognize that the crime does not only impact the targeted individual but also the broader community as well.
Lipshez-Shapiro offered three actions for schools to take in dealing with a hate or bias incident. First, the school must denounce the act and be specific about the incident instead of calling it “unacceptable.” Second, the schools must actively listen and support the targeted students (and all those who share in that identity) and seek to understand their experience. Lastly, the school should not make excuses for biased behavior but seek justice and focus on education so that there is a common understanding of what is acceptable in your school’s culture.
Bias and hate crimes are far more than a troublesome trend. Pincince said, “These instances tell people you don’t belong here. You’re not safe here and you're not wanted here.” The schools in attendance are committed to providing positive school environments for every student.