It is vital to support specific victims of a bias incident or hate crime at school, as well as show support for the targeted community. To create this support, you must provide for physical safety, denounce the act in unequivocal terms and follow through on appropriate consequences for perpetrators.
Victims of hateful acts often feel vulnerable, alone and angry. Even when the attack is impersonal—graffiti on a wall, for example—victims often feel personally violated and individually targeted. An affected person's wishes regarding privacy should be respected. If the targeted person is a teacher, then a close colleague or department head should check in with that individual to discuss privacy issues. In the case of a student, have a designated safe contact person ask the student about their wishes regarding privacy. If a targeted person voices a desire to go public, initiate a conversation about the risks of doing so (media scrutiny, nasty comments in online settings, an inability to go back to anonymity) to make sure they are making an informed decision. Balance the risk of going public against the reasons for doing so. For many targets of a bias incident or hate crime, there is a real sense of power in speaking up and out. For others, going public would make a terrible situation even worse.
Here are five other considerations:
Don’t put the targeted person on the spot.
Don’t ask targeted individuals to speak in class or issue statements to the media or answer for their entire identity group in response to the incident. This may reinjure them and make them feel like a target again. Also be sensitive to the position of faculty and staff. As with students, never single out members of a particular identity group for their response to bias incidents or other matters of diversity. At the same time, welcome their input when it is offered.
Don’t take offense.
Targeted students, parents and caregivers may lash out at the school community for not doing enough to protect them or their children; this is a very natural reaction. Acknowledge their feelings and discuss ways that the school plans to prevent future incidents. Also inform students and families about victim advocacy and services, counseling and other supportive resources at the school and in the community.
Denounce efforts that may reinjure the person harmed.
Avoid any suggestion that the person somehow “brought on” the attack by their appearance or behavior. For example, every year, shameful reports surface about administrators telling LGBTQ victims they would not be harassed or attacked if they just refrained from being “out.” Also, if a person who was harassed retaliates against a bully or harasser, do not allow the original provocation to go unaddressed when considering consequences in the wake of the second incident.
Apologize on behalf of the school community.
In private or during an incident-related conference, express how sorry you and the school are for what happened. Social and psychological research has shown that sincere apologies have great power in healing ruptures in trust and security within organizations, communities and professional relationships. Explain that the school will do everything possible to identify offenders and see that they face appropriate consequences.
Be sensitive to privacy concerns in anti-LGBTQ incidents.
If a bias incident targets a LGBT student or teacher, or perceived LGBT student or teacher, avoid making an issue of the person's sexual orientation or gender identity. Focus on the incident, safety and prevention of future incidents. Be very careful not to “out” students or teachers who have not shared their sexual orientation publicly.