Teaching Tolerance Offers Strategies to Combat Bias, Defuse Racial Tensions in Schools


Following the racially charged events in Jena, La., the Southern Poverty Law Center's Teaching Tolerance program is offering educators a set of strategies to combat bias incidents at school and defuse tensions before they erupt into violence.

Six Lessons from Jena helps educators evaluate the climate of their school, spot warning signs, identify bias incidents and use them as teaching moments to bring together the school and community.

A "School Climate Questionnaire" is provided for teachers and students to give their perceptions of the school. Activities such as "Map It Out" encourage teachers and students to draw maps showing where they think social divisions exist on campus.

"Educators play a pivotal role when a bias incident occurs," said Jennifer Holladay, director of Teaching Tolerance. "They can be the difference between these incidents tearing the community apart or bringing it together."

The events in Jena, where white students hung nooses from a tree after black students sat under it, illustrate the need for an anti-bias strategy. The noose incident led to increased racial tensions and fights on and off campus. After a white student was beaten, six black students were charged with attempted murder, a charge that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and many other advocates consider excessive, given the nature of the assault. Thousands have marched on the town in protest, while white supremacists have used the event to inflame racial passions.

The noose-hanging, the name-calling and the violence in Jena might all have been avoided if school officials had paid attention to the warning signs and acted decisively to address the underlying issues.

"Six Lessons from Jena is the roadmap to follow for any school struggling to effectively address bias incidents among its student body," said Amy M. Homans, with the Maine Civil Rights Team Project, an effort by the Maine attorney general's office to reduce school bias incidents. "Once again, Teaching Tolerance steps up to the plate to provide school officials with the tools they need to confront this difficult issue with confidence and conviction."

Teaching Tolerance also is offering free print copies of Responding to Hate at School and other anti-bias guidebooks to school professionals at no charge through Oct. 31, 2007. The guidebooks can be downloaded or ordered.

The SPLC is assisting in the defense of the Jena 6.