Steps To Combating Anti-Muslim Bullying In Schools
1. Design a specific anti-bullying policy that is comprehensive of all vulnerable students. Rather than adopt a general “zero tolerance” bullying policy, schools should clearly state that they won’t tolerate harassment based on race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, or immigration status. This explicit announcement can help teachers and students alike remain aware of what behavior is uniformly unacceptable.
2. Understand bullying as an act that’s tied to larger social issues — not just an interpersonal problem. Targeting Muslim students is different from bullying that’s based on personal characteristics, such as a peer’s weight, clothes, or academic standing. Kids who harass their Muslim peers are likely influenced by a pervasive stereotype that Muslims are terrorists or that Islam is a violent religion. Educators need to teach students to consume media with a critical eye, and to understand how the news might color their opinions.
3. Use academic coursework to fight bullying. Teachers can incorporate lessons on the importance of being an “upstander” in the face of mistreatment. Students should understand the historical consequences when people, just like them, have blindly followed stereotypes or haven’t stood up for those who are targeted and vulnerable.
4. Focus curriculum interventions on human rights and inclusivity. To work against stereotypes and a widespread lack of knowledge about Islam, schools should educate students about Islamic history, traditions, and current affairs. But teachers should keep the curricular focus people-centric, not faith-centric, and don’t single out Islam or Muslim students. For example, younger students can learn about Islamic dietary customs within broader lessons about culinary traditions around the world, nutritional needs, food allergies, and other faith-based dietary rules. Older students can learn about Islamophobia within larger conversations about how power is distributed in America.
5. Ensure that faculty and staff are aware of their own implicit bias. In all interactions with students, educators should continually double-check to ensure that their words are inclusive and do not conform to stereotypes. I suggest that teachers think about “radical hospitality” — overtly welcoming all students, faiths, and cultures into their classrooms.
6. Involve parents and communities, inviting everyone to get to know each other. School leaders can use PTO/PTA meetings for families to learn about cultural and religious differences in their communities, inviting Muslim families to participate. School leaders can also use these meetings to highlight why they think it’s important to use curriculum to prepare students to live in heterogeneous, egalitarian communities.
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