Salaams! Welcome to ICNA CSJ Blogs, a series where we discuss social justice issues of our time, and what you, personally, can do about them.
Today, May 4th, is International Stand Up to Bullying Day, and though this day may be relevant to most children in America and across the world, it is especially important for Muslim American and immigrant or second-generation immigrant children, who are statistically more likely to face conflict and violence at school.
Since 2016, hate crimes against Muslims have skyrocketed in America. This was largely prompted by the harmful rhetoric of the then-incoming presidential administration. Since then, we have heard of countless reports of violence, and school children are not exempt from the statistics.
You may have heard stories of girls who have their hijabs ripped off their heads, children who fall victim to physical violence, and even teachers who take part in bringing Muslim students and their beliefs down.
As a parent, or even a concerned community member, you are not powerless, and can even take a stand for your children and loved ones.
Firstly, you can take a preventative approach: Start a dialogue with your child’s teacher, principal, and your elected school board member stating your concerns, and asking how they plan on addressing the issues. Let them know that Muslim children are vulnerable to bullying and harassment, and ask them what structures they have in place to protect students, and if they have anything in place in case something goes wrong.
Remember that your elected school board official works for you, and have a continuing dialogue with their office staff. Keep in mind how they respond about issues important to you, and remember to vote in elections, or maybe even run for the position yourself!
Another preventative step you can take is to discuss boundaries with your children before a negative experience occurs. Let your children know that you are a safe space, and that you will never blame them for anything that happens to them. Let them know to tell you if something does happen, and empower them to recognize feels of fear, discomfort, or hurt.
When something negative does happen in school, take control of the situation. Your children should see you believe their narrative, and communicate with a teacher about what happened in the classroom, or a principal about anything that happens in a hallway or on school grounds. Any conversation that happens should have a paper trail, if a phone conversation occurs, make sure to send an email following up and recapping the conversation.
Make sure to ask what will be done to prevent the situation from happening again. Also make sure to ask how your child will be protected from the bully, and what restorative justice practices can be utilized to ensure that the children see each other’s perspectives and are able to work together safely in the future.
If the teacher or principal does not give an adequate response, send an email or make a phone call to your school board member. Explain the situation, that you are not able to get a proper response from the teacher or principal, and they will either work with you to solve the issue, or maybe even get a higher authority involved.
After the incident, remain in communication with your child, and ask them about the steps taken to mitigate the problem. If the problem is resolved, follow up with your child’s teacher, and maybe, send a small gift to thank the teacher for handling the problem appropriately. Though this is not necessary, and it is not the responsibility of parents and children to reward teachers for doing their job, it can create a comfortable environment for further communication, and may help the teacher think about how to protect other muslim children in their classroom from harm preemptively.
We hope this guide helps to try to navigate the school going years in this new, post 2016 environment. Though it’s a scary world, we have the responsibility to take charge and protect ourselves against bullying, harassment, and racism. As time goes on, we will learn to take advantage of the many resources available to us, and raise our voices against injustice to make a better world for the future generations.