Biased-related incidents targeting Oregon’s public schoolchildren have surged since the November election. Of 1,094 hate-based acts occurring nationwide in this period, 42 took place in Oregon. Documenting these incidents, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), ranks this small, famously “blue state” ninth because of its high rate of incidents.
Despite the fact that the state’s population of 4 million ranks 27 among states, the ratio of its bias acts to the state’s population is three times higher than in California — the state that tops the study’s list. Some speculate that Oregon’s largely homogenous population is to blame for this disproportionality. An estimated 87 percent of Oregonians are white, according to the most recent US Census.
Hateful conduct reported in the past month has ranged from verbal assaults to vandalism. One Oregon high school teacher reports:
Today I photographed vandalism in the boy’s bathroom that mentioned a specific black student (1 of 7 in a school of 200). It repeatedly mentioned the KKK, used the n-word and joining Jews. A student drew a swastika on my board a few days ago. A black female ran out of a room crying after being racially harassed by multiple students during two different classes. One student … reported asking two different Latina students if they were ready to move back to Mexico now that Trump is president. I have witnessed an increase in racist and sexist jokes by students who support Trump. I personally spent most of the day putting out fires related to these issues, including documenting and reporting them. Multiple white males also expressed anger over the school wanting to post signs stating we are a sanctuary school.
Schoolchildren are also the target of hatred on social media. When a poll solicited senior-prank ideas on Lake Oswego High School‘s Class of 2017 Facebook page, someone posted: “Create a club called Ku Klux Klub and find every black kid and sacrifice them.“
Superintendent of Lake Oswego Public Schools Heather Beck and high school principal Rollin Dickinson immediately condemned the bigoted remarks. Beck said that the Lake Oswego community is determined to “reject hatefulness and recognize insensitivity.” The Lake Oswego High School newspaper, which reported the Facebook incident, interviewed sophomore student Paymonn Afghan, who said:
People at LOHS are very ignorant and racist. A perfect example is a group of boys in my grade who always walk by me in the halls and yell “Allah Akbar” “Paymonn no bomb” “go back to Iran.” Worst of all when they chant ‘Trump’ and tell me to leave the country before Trump “stones me to death.”
Forty miles south of Lake Oswego, Silverton High School suspended two students for holding Trump signs and waving American flags while shouting at Latino students: “Pack your bags, you’re leaving tomorrow,” and “Tell your family good-bye.”
In Bend, Oregon, an 11-year-old Colombian middle school student with American citizenship was bullied by students who shouted “Go back to Mexico” at her.
Joy Simmons, a freshman high school student at Clackamas Academy of Industrial Sciences in Oregon City, discovered the n-word written on a note left in her binder. Two days later, she found another note that said “Go back to Africa, N***r.” In response, Oregon City High School students organized a walkout as a symbolic gesture of protest and solidarity with students of color.
State and local government officials have vowed to fight these acts. In a video statement, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown called upon all Oregonians to unite against hate. Brown said:
In Oregon we will not let the politics of hate interfere with our aspirations for a more perfect union. Hate has no place in the Oregon we love. What distinguishes us as Oregonians is our willingness to work together to overcome our challenges. We are at our best when we are focused on what we share in common rather than what divides us.
Echoing the governor, Oregon Democratic Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden sent a letter to General Attorney Loretta Lynch, urging her to investigate and bring to justice all responsible individuals and groups. They asked her to protect minority groups from “hateful rhetoric that contributes to a culture of harassment and intimidation.”
Since the elections, public schools are instituting new school policies to combat this behavior. Concerned with the growing backlash against undocumented immigrants, Portland Public Schools passed a resolution to ensure safe and inclusive learning environments for all students. It states: “The Board believes that the physical safety and emotional well-being of all children in the District, and ensuring that our schools are safe and inviting for all students and their families is paramount to students being able to achieve. PPS does not tolerate any form of discrimination, harassment or bullying.”
Finally, the nonprofit Oregon Safe Schools & Communities Coalition (OSSC) is working with schools and community groups to collect information about such incidents. The Oregon Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, has created a webpage linked to OSSC’s website in which students, teachers and parents may report hate crimes.
As the actions of OSSC and OEA insist, schools must remain sanctuaries for student learning, regardless of their social and cultural backgrounds. If these community responders have their way, Oregon’s school climate will improve and the state’s ignominious ranking will plummet.