Handling Hate at the High School
October 20, 2021
Our eyes locked in disbelief and shock; our fellow World of Difference members shook their heads along with us in disgust as Mr. Hanna gestured to our advisors for their thoughts as he finished his overview about what had occurred. Our advisor, Mrs. Calcagno, then explained that “having conversations about bias is most important”. So let’s talk about it.
As students of the Franklin High School community walked around the perimeter of their school, the last thing that they had expected to see was the homophobic message scrawled across the back door. Not only was this message unexpected, but something that these teenagers should never have had to see. They were then faced with the choice of whether or not they should report this discriminatory behavior. The students decided to step forward and report their findings to the administration, who we picture responding with long faces and disappointed shakes of their heads.
As the administration raced to quickly remove the homophobic writing, Mr. Hanna began his dive into the camera footage pointed at the back door from the night of the crime. Mr. Hanna sat for hours, watching students walk by and cars chug down the street. As he combed through the afterschool footage, Mr. Hanna finally saw a group of students carefully writing out the message that would drive teenagers back into their shells and prohibit them from expressing who they are.
Students and administrators rotated in and out of Mr. Hanna’s office, answering questions about their whereabouts and helping to identify the violators. After completing hours of interviews, the criminals were finally identified as middle school students from the Franklin Public School community. Mr. Hanna described his sigh of relief at the knowledge that the crime was not committed by a Franklin High School student. However, he is still very disappointed in the situation.
Even though the violator was not a member of the Franklin High School community, this is not an excuse that should reduce the action plan decided on by the administration. No matter who committed the crime, the effect on the LGBTQ+ community and any supporters of diversity are still negatively affected as the welcoming environment within Franklin High School was tarnished. We have questioned whether or not the administration’s action plan changed as they found that the culprit did not attend Franklin High. In response to this questioning, Mr. Hanna agreed that depending on certain situational factors, “additional steps may have had to be taken” in addition to his response to this crime to try and make all of his students feel safe and welcome.
Since Mr. Hanna questioned the effectiveness of large scale assemblies, he tried to connect with the student body by visiting clubs filled with those affected and their allies. He broke the news of this hate crime to the clubs, such as World of Difference, and watched as the students grimaced and sighed. After stating that the graffiti was written on the back door of Franklin High, Mr. Hanna went on about his deep investigation to find the violator. As he shared both his relief that the violator didn’t go to Franklin High as well as his disappointment in the hate crime, many club members questioned if the negative impact on Franklin High School communities should be a larger focus than which school the violator attended.
After hearing about the news, our most urgent plan of action was to personally interview Mr. Hanna and to pull at loose strings, hoping to unravel more information on the hate crime and FHS’s response. Though our student body had been recently informed in an emailed newsletter, we felt that further action was deemed necessary.
Aiming to decipher our administration’s process, we waded through discussions of school protocol with Mr. Hanna to suggestions of proactiveness and public address. We fully acknowledge that to some, the topic at hand is uncomfortable, possibly even foreign and bitter, to discuss at a high school filled with teenagers. Yet, we must grow and change with the world around us, as Mr. Hanna also pointed out. He explained that he has been implementing a program of anti-discrimination and diversity awareness into our curriculum by integrating anti-defamation lessons into our classes. He hopes that by, “Incorporat[ing] diversity and equity through an inclusion lens in all of our units and lessons” that students themselves will grow to become more empathetic and sensitive adults.
Though this is an admirable, progressing plan, we also sought out more explicit action. Hate crimes should not be a taboo of discussions in schools; they are as important to address, correct, and learn from as anything else. Mr. Hanna and our school as a whole has done a commendable job of responding by visiting diversity clubs and spreading awareness.
But, there is always more we can do. Teenagers may be teenagers, but that does not excuse the harsh and crude behavior of hate graffiti. We must turn our attention to the group affected. Most important in this instance, the LGBTQ+ community in Franklin High should be prioritized, as well as any other groups that felt harmed or threatened by the graffiti. The offenders are of the least importance in relation to the discrimination that they caused to ripple across our community. In the words of Mr. Hanna, “there is a lot of education that needs to occur ”. And it’s our generation’s responsibility to carry out this education into the world. Mrs. Calcagno “hope[s] that this will be the beginning of the change that we all want to see.”
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