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Not in Our Town, Not in Our School

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Photo: (Liz Stark)

Ever since we were little, we have listened to lessons about kindness and respect.  Treat people the way you wish to be treated.  The Golden Rule.  I have always thought that the “Golden Rule” got its nickname because chemical gold is an inert metal; in a sense, it never rusts and never fades.  The Golden Rule is unyielding and timeless; a universal truth. 

However, despite the Golden Rule’s universality, prejudice and hate still permeate our school districts and towns.  Individuals are singled out based on their ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and learning capabilities.  Groups are targeted through vandalism, physical abuse, and harassment.  This type of behavior is unkind and unacceptable, but it is NOT unstoppable.

NOT IN OUR SCHOOL believes in the power of community to stop, address, and respond to acts of prejudice and hate.  NIOS is a network of initiatives created to empower students, teachers, and parents to eradicate bullying and intolerance from schools and towns.  NIOS is all about creating an “identity safe” environment and giving people a voice through student-led campaigns, classroom discussions, and other school programs.  NIOS has inspired school districts across the country, from California to New Jersey, to stand up against hate.

In March 2011, a student vandalized the outside of my high school with racial slurs and expletives.  When I stepped off the school bus in the morning, I saw the vandalism in thick black paint.  Students huddled around the wall, visibly shaken by the reality that someone had defaced school property and used it as a platform for hate.

Later that day, I was summoned to a meeting with a select group of students, teachers and school administrators to discuss an effective and proper response to the vandalism.  This act of prejudice and intolerance was such a visual act, and I wanted to respond with something equally as visual to unite the school community.   

So, I initiated a discussion to paint a mural over the vandalized area on the exterior wall to serve as a constant reminder of respect and citizenship. During lunch periods, I helped organize a finger-painting station for all students to dip their hands in paint and impress them upon the exterior mural, symbolizing not only our commitment to wiping out prejudice and vandalism, but also our commitment to each other.  The resulting mural depicts a giant communal tree with the students’ handprints as the leaves, branching off in all directions and reaching out to each other.   I also drafted an “Anti-Hate Pledge” to be painted inside the school as a way to express how our school community would never tolerate hate.   The following is my school pledge, which is located in the main entrance:

Pledge Against Hate

This [school community] pledges to become part of the solution against hate.  We pledge to be role models of kindness and tolerance.  We pledge to embrace and celebrate the diversity of our community.  We pledge to demonstrate social awareness and cultural acceptance.  When faced with hate, we pledge to be “upstanders”, not bystanders.

… and we pledge to inspire others to become part of the solution, too.

The last part of the Anti-Hate Pledge holds special significance for me.  Being an “upstander” means not only learning about the effects of bullying and intolerance, but also doing something about it.  Although we are from diverse backgrounds, we can share one collective voice: NOT IN OUR SCHOOL.

For more information about Not In Our School, go to notinourschool.org.

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