Letter from the Director

Dear Educator, 

We all have moments in which we are unsure how to respond when someone uses language that is derogatory, stereotypical or expresses prejudicial views. Sometimes that uncertainty stems from who is speaking—a colleague, a student or a parent—or because of our own discomfort about how to address these instances. This booklet is intended to support educators in developing the skills to speak up and to help their students speak up, too, in such situations. 

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” —Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sometimes we can easily recognize bigotry—slurs, put-downs, negative labels —and other times we may have that queasy feeling when a colleague makes a joke using stereotypes or expressing a prejudicial view. And we know these occurrences can start as early as kindergarten when, for instance, a boy is teased because he likes dolls. The variety of situations that arise in educational settings challenge us to find various ways to respond. 

No single word covers every situation, so in this guide, we refer to derogatory language, stereotypes, or language that express bigotry. And while some of these remarks are said in ignorance, many others reflect real hostility. 

This guide is for educators and all adults in schools, and it offers advice for ways to respond to remarks made by students and other adults. It also gives guidance for helping students learn to speak up as well. And modeling the kind of behavior we want from students is one of the most effective ways of teaching. 

And since schools are hierarchical for adults and for students, we’ve addressed the ways responding to bigotry might be affected by power dynamics. While it’s relatively easy for a teacher to correct a student who has used an ethnic slur, it may be uncomfortable—even fear-inducing—to do so when the slur comes from a colleague, administrator or parent. 

Finally, when we talk about “moments” in this guide, we’re talking about the very short time that passes when somebody says something and you struggle with how, or even whether, you’ll respond. These moments are opportunities that must be acted upon swiftly. 

We hope this guide provides you with practical ideas about how to respond to derogatory language and bigotry in the moment, from any source, in any situation. 

—Jalaya Liles Dunn 
Learning for Justice Director