WARNING: The following story includes profane language that some may find offensive.
By Jamie Hale
A new study has revealed an astounding level of hatred and harassment, from racist jokes to public groping, all taking place in our local high schools.
Pocatello anti-discrimination group, 2 Great 4 Hate, who initiated the study, released “Pocatello High Schools, Report Summarizing Student Focus Groups on Bias and Harassment,” or known simply as “The Wessler Report,” after researcher Steve Wessler, Tuesday morning. The report quoted students anonymously about the hateful atmosphere within their schools.
Wessler, who founded of the Maine-based Center for Preventing Hate, talked to 101 local students over nine focus groups to compile the study. He asked them to recount stories of bias and harassment in their schools and received accounts of daily abuse within all three high schools.
“Coming to a school each day to hear constant sexually degrading slurs and to see boys touch girls’ butts and breasts makes me fell (sic) like I am back in HELL AGAIN each day,” said a Highland High School student.
“Being called a nigger on the second week of the new school year was really disheartening. Having people not get that the words aren’t funny, even when you tell them time after time, [is] really something to make you sad. It makes [me] feel depressed and alone,” said a Pocatello High student.
Students told Wessler dozens of racist jokes and slurs they’ve heard in school, many with morbid images and blatantly offensive language.
In fact, there aren’t any offensive words that go unsaid in schools, according to the report. Common slurs like “whore” and “fag” along with more extreme ones like “nigger” and “cunt” are reportedly used daily.
Nate Murphy, a member of the District 25 school board, said the language wasn’t necessarily surprising, but the level of maliciousness in the report was definitely a shock. “It was gut-wrenching to read, it was just terrifyingly sad,” he said.
Murphy said Kent Hobbs, the student support services director, is spearheading a strategy to combat the issue, but couldn’t speak about any specifics. Kent Hobbs did not return our calls to comment.
In the meantime, some students are being hit hard by harassment, as detailed in the report. “I know a girl who got raped by the guy she gave her virginity to,” said a Highland student. “And when she tried to talk to him about it, he called her a slut and immediately sent a mass email about how big a liar she was. No one believed her, everyone talked shit about her, and the only way she could get it to stop was to say that the rape never happened. She fights every day to smile and trust. That girl is me.”
Several students told similar stories about kids of different races and kids who were either gay or just perceived to be gay. In most cases, those students were taunted, lost friends, started cutting themselves and turned to drugs and alcohol. Several openly gay high school students have been known to commit suicide in recent years.
Wessler notes, however, that this level of harassment isn’t necessarily unusual. High schools across the country are finding similar climates of extreme hatred and bias, he said, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any cause for concern in Pocatello. Tension between students of different genders, races, religions and sexual orientation seems to saturate all three schools at exceedingly high levels.
Despite the concern, the report concludes on a positive note. “We are optimistic about the ability to create a climate in the Pocatello High Schools in which every student feels respected,” wrote Wessler. “Our optimism arises from the leadership of administrators, the concern of teachers for creating a safe climate and the high level of empathy and concern for others shown by the 100 students who participated in the focus group.”
Contact Jamie at JHaleTBA@Gmail.com