Last week I attended the annual Illinois Latino Legislative Caucus Foundation Conference. At this conference I attended a session on education with expert panelist focused on new academic standards and improvements. Students took the opportunity to comment on bullying at their schools. The experts responded by referring to a new Illinois state law that was passed to address the issue of bullying in schools, but the students insisted that bullying was still an issue in their schools. I wondered; how can we expect to improve our education programs if our students are busy worrying about their safety?
I was especially moved by one girl’s experience with bullying. She is a Latina in a predominately white school. When a student pulled a knife on her and told her to “go back to where you came from,” no action was taken by the school, and this was one incident of many. Other students, teachers and parents testified to prejudices experienced in their schools. The discrimination ranged from students being kept from honor courses or science courses, because their parents spoke with an accent or because of the student’s gender. If teachers and administrators are discriminating, then obviously there is an environment in schools where bullying can grow from the same ignorance.
One student made it clear that the bullying she experienced because of her race is no different than the bullying that is being experienced by young LGBTQ students. Recently, several LGBTQ youth have committed suicide as a result of bullying. Almost 85 percent of LGBTQ teenagers are harassed in high school because of their sexual orientation, with 61 percent of gay youth report feeling unsafe in school.
At times there is an attitude that bullying is just a part of growing up, a rite of passage, but today’s bullying is different from bullying in the past. Cyberbullying is a new generational phenomenon. Cyberbullying has also led to suicides. I ask again, how can we expect to improve our education programs if our students are busy worrying about their safety?
It really does take a village to raise a child, and bullying is a community issue that must be dealt with on all levels. “Safe space training” should be mandated for teachers so they can deal with bullying and the special needs of their LGBTQ students. Parents may find trainings on how to deal with their children who are bullies or their children who are being bullied helpful. Students should be educated on acceptance and the value of diversity. Students should also be allowed to organize support groups to deal with bullying. Having a Gay-Straight Alliance in school was related to more positive experiences for LGBT students, but in spite this information only 45% of students reported having a Gay-Straight Alliance at school. Finally, we need diverse classrooms. Diversity in the classrooms will not only help with bullying, but it will help to create a society where differences are respected and individuals are judged “by the content of their character.”
If you or someone you know is getting bullied please visit:
The Trevor Project
866 4-U-Trevor (866-488-7386)
Other related Being Latino Blogs:
By guest contributor, Cristina Villarreal.