(ANS) — As schools across the country consider purchasing new security
equipment, increasing their police presence, updating crisis handbooks and banning
dark trench coats, student representatives caution against adopting a siege mentality
in the wake of the recent murders at Columbine High School.
Ben Smilowitz, co-founder and national chair of the International Student
Activism Alliance, said the Littleton, Colo., shootings and bomb spree point to a
need for more dialogue between students and administrators, not a prison-style
“Students around the country are very upset and sort of frightened but it’s
generally understood that the actions were (taken) by crazy students,” said
Smilowitz, 18, who graduated earlier this year from Hall High School in West
Hartford, Conn. “I think our main problem is that adults are trying to create
solutions, and have forums, and are not including students. That doesn’t make a
lot of sense.”
Members of the alliance, which has 150 chapters in high schools nationwide,
say open discussions about intolerance brewing beneath the surface of many
campuses, increased counseling and peer mediation would go a long way toward
preventing violence on campus. Some schools are more open to these programs
than others, they add.
In New Jersey, high school senior Ashley Price said despite the placid
appearance of largely white Nutley High School, racial slurs and derogatory remarks
about students who were different in attitude or dress from the “in crowd” were all
“The beautiful people dominate sports, school council and the teachers’
time,” just as their counterparts appeared to do in Littleton, said Price. “Those are
the kids everyone wants to be, but they are also the most hated.”
Price said she thinks while social stereotyping goes on in all schools, efforts to
be proactive in preventing violence can make a big difference. A proposal by
members of her school’s Human Relations Club to form a committee of
administrators, teachers, clergy and students on teaching tolerance is being
considered by administrators, she said, although she thought enthusiasm for this
was stronger on the students’ side. Administrators were not immedately reachable
for comment on this point.
The often different understanding of a school’s social climate by
administrators and students has been underscored in the work of a Boston-based
group that advocates social and emotional learning in schools. Educators for Social
Responsibility found that when program administrators and parents were asked to
assess the overall climate of their workplace or child’s school, they generally saw it
in a much more favorable light than did the students.
At George Washington High School in Charleston, W. Va., senior Anna Sale
said that even though the Littleton shooting was particularly upsetting and it can be
frustratingly difficult to figure out solutions to school violence, dialogue — and not
more rules — was essential.
“I couldn’t really sleep at all last week,” she recalled. “I was very bothered by
it. I find myself glimpsing at students walking down the hallway when I never did
before. But I don’t know if turning schools into a military state is going to improve
anything. There’s sort of an element of hysteria developing that makes me a bit
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Mieke H. Bomann is a free-lance reporter based in Seattle.
Ben Smilowitz, co-founder, national chair, Ashley Price, Anna Sale, International
Student Activism Alliance, 860-232-8452.
JoinTogether, Boston, Mass., national advocacy and research group for preventing
youth violence and substance abuse, on-line information service:
THE AMERICAN NEWS SERVICE
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