Eliminating hate in SHS

Man mourns the loss of family and friends after the fatal shooting at a Pittsburgh Synagogue.

Man mourns the loss of family and friends after the fatal shooting at a Pittsburgh Synagogue.

Rebecca Lockman and Josh Paskert

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On Oct. 27, 2018 a gunman entered a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and opened fire. 11 people were killed and seven more were injured. The gunman, Robert Bowers, was a criminal who had been charged with 29 federal crimes and 36 state crimes. The attack he committed was his most egregious act of anti-semitism and hate, but not his first— he had previously shared his anti-semitic viewpoints with friends, family and on social media sites.

Oct. 27 was indeed a tragedy, but perhaps the greatest tragedy is that this act of hate is neither unprecedented nor atypical in the modern era. Acts of intolerance aren’t limited solely to mass shootings or violent protests but appear in smaller, everyday words and actions. More so, acts of hate do not just occur in places seemingly far away like Pittsburg or Charlottesville, but right here at home in our local community.

Solon High School (SHS) Principal Ms. Erin Short has seen her share of incidents of discrimination during her 20 years as a school administrator.

“We have had harassment [and] inappropriate statements made on ethnicity, [sexual] orientation and race,” Short said.

Among the SHS students anonymously surveyed there were numerous perspectives. 56.2% of the 67 surveyed students said they had experienced discrimination and prejudice because of their ethnicity, religious beliefs or sexual orientation.

Anonymous students who participated in the survey described their personal experiences. They narrowed in on certain instances that left a lasting impression on them.

“I am constantly bombarded with anti-LGBT and LGBT insensitive material. I’ve been publicly harassed for being with my girlfriend in public and am in danger of losing family members and friends because of my identity,” one student said.

Our nation has been becoming more tolerant over time, but unfortunately, there is always a group that serves as a scapegoat for any problems that the U.S. may be facing. In the last few years, the shift has been taken from LGBTQ individuals, even though there is clearly still prejudice towards them, to Hispanic, Latino and Muslim groups.

“I was once called a ‘mudblood’ and ‘dirty’ because I’m half white and half hispanic,” another student said. “They thought that being mixed made you some sort of mut… and impure.”

And even still, since Sept. 11, 2001 there has been an increased preconception that every practicing Muslim person is associated with groups that promote violence and terror.

But regardless of who is the target of discrimination, it won’t be tolerated within the school.

“We’re pretty aggressive with how we issue consequences and we’re very consistent with that,” Short said. “Our consequences serve as a deterrent.”

The fair but stern repercussions such as out of school suspension for students has led to fewer incidents of bullying and discrimination at school. This does not necessarily mean that discrimination and hatred are not present outside the classroom. Many students feel that in order to directly address the causes of hate, instead of solely ignoring it, more needs to be done.

“Everything is taught,” an anonymous SHS student said. “Being capable of hating is taught. Being able to love and have empathy is taught.”

A.P Psychology teacher Robin Joseph elaborates on this by explaining that the upbringing of a child holds a large influence over their life trajectory. What’s most important, she claims, is that they are surrounded by accepting and empathic perspectives not just at home, but in school and in their community.

Oftentimes, prejudice stems from a lack of information and ignorance. People don’t know beyond what they’ve been taught. Because many bigoted viewpoints are deeply ingrained in people’s’ minds, the removal of these ideals can be difficult.  

“Honest discussion and education is key,” Wenzhao Qiu said. “Comfort the victims, but have empathy for the offenders as well. We, as humans, are all capable of rational thought. At some point in time, these people just were misled and misinformed by the environment around them.”

Sometimes the offender doesn’t realize their comments and actions are hurtful and  disrespectful. Some people though, have been raised to accept and promote those viewpoints.

“People crack jokes that are meant to be harmless, but sometimes they go a little too far,” one student said.

Nevertheless, the school environment at SHS appears to be highly tolerant and inclusive. After all, there is an incredibly diverse community. However, the majority of the students we surveyed, as well as SHS teachers, shared that they had witnessed or experienced acts of discrimination, while also indicating the difficulty of stopping prejudice altogether, is too great.

“I don’t think we can end hate or bias completely because everyone grows up in their own culture,” one student said.

Intolerance happens in all forms. To truly eliminate hate from our community and from our society, everyone must take a stand. Whether it be a shooting far from home, a bigoted protest in a distant city, or any form of hate- small or large- your words and your actions against hate will be heard.

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