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Save Your VI: The New Campaign To End Racial Harassment in Schools

In the Trump Era, racial harassment in schools may be getting worse. A new campaign, by and for students and parents of color, aims to end it.

For two years, Evan Mack endured a targeted campaign of racist harassment from his high school classmates. According to a report compiled by his parents, one student threatened to “rip the black off” Evan (who is biracial), other students used racial slurs, and his football team played a song called “Beat The N–” in the locker room, pretending to hit Evan while singing along. But when Evan and his family reported the harassment to the school, none of the students involved were disciplined.

Evan’s not alone. Although there’s very little national data on the prevalence of racial harassment in schools, news reports have documented bias incidents in schools across the country. After ProPublica began documenting hate incidents last year, reports from students poured in. From October 2016 – May 2017, students and parents reported hate incidents specifically involving Donald Trump at 149 K-12 schools across the country, from a Louisville student chasing a Latina girl around a classroom yelling “Build a wall!,” to a Jewish student whose classmates yelled “Heil Hitlary,” and “One million of your lives is worth less than 30,000 deleted emails,” at him across a Dallas playground.

These nightmarish situations can seriously disrupt a young person’s education – Evan, for example, was forced to leave school for his own safety, denied important educational opportunities because of racial harassment.

Evan’s mom, Raquel Mack, co-founded Save Your VI, a new campaign to help students learn about their civil right to go to school free from harassment and discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin. Save Your VI was inspired by Know Your IX, a survivor- and youth- led campaign (where I work) fighting gender-based harassment and violence in schools by educating students about Title IX.

Title IX isn’t the only federal law that requires schools to take on harassment. Save Your VI gets its name from Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which reads:

“No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

That means that, when a student experiences harassment on the basis of their race or ethnicity, their school (if it receives any federal money) has a legal obligation to promptly intervene and take steps to minimize the disruption to a victim’s educational access. When school officials fail to do so, their schools may become hostile learning environments where students of color can’t learn equitably. But – much like Title IX – not all schools are in compliance with federal civil rights law. When that happens, knowing your rights, and having the tools to fight for them, can make all the difference.

In addition to racial harassment, Title VI protects students from racist school disciplinary practices and requires school districts equitably provide access to educational opportunities like AP classes. And to dress codes that penalize black girls’ hair.be sure to check out Dana’s piece about how Title IX and Title VI intersect to protect girls of color against sexist and racist school discipline. From dress codes that penalize black girls’ hair to vaguely defined “attitude violations” disproportionately used to suspend black and brown girls, girls of color race uniquely high rates of school pushout.

Check out Save Your VI’s website, their Know Your Rights guides, toolkits for parents and educators who want to support students experiencing harassment, and more here.

 

Sejal Singh is a columnist at Feministing, where she writes about educational equity, labor, and reproductive justice. Sejal is a Policy and Advocacy Coordinator for Know Your IX, a national campaign to end gender-based violence in schools, and a frequent speaker on LGBTQ rights and civil rights in education. She is a student at Harvard Law School.

Sejal Singh is a columnist at Feministing, writing about educational equity, labor, and reproductive justice.

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