by Emily Dievendorf
In 2016, Michigan Civil Rights Department Director, Augustin Arbulu, reported at the December Michigan Civil Rights Commission meeting that while the Department usually receives on average five to ten reports of hate incidents yearly, it had received 65 reports of hate incidents in the four-week period following the 2016 presidential election. Thirty-six of the reported hate incidents occurred in Michigan’s K-12 schools, colleges, and universities. This increase in incidents of bias-motivated bullying and attacks reflect national trends recorded by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which also noted that the majority of incidents across the country are targeting students from already marginalized communities and/or identities.
This news was terrifying, but not shocking, because we have witnessed the increase in hate in our communities ourselves. As LGBTQIA people who are also a demographic within every targeted and vulnerable demographic, the current political environment is often felt multifold. LGBTQIA people are also people of color, Jewish, Muslim, immigrants, women, and people with disabilities. We are also children or have children, who are struggling in our schools.
While many of our schools are doing their best to respond to the marked increase in bias incidents and are working to support our students targeted for bullying, discrimination, and harassment, the majority of schools don’t know how bias incidents are recognized, how educators and administrators can intervene, or how incidents should be recorded. Very few schools know that after a bias incident, communities require a unique and unified community-wide response in order to begin healing.
The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance defines a bias incident as “conduct, speech or expression motivated, in whole or in part, by bias or prejudice.” While all hate crimes are bias incidents, unless a crime has been committed, not all bias incidents are hate crimes. Regardless, all bias incidents are messages to a whole community, making bias‑motivated events complicated issues that call for a firm denouncement from school and community leaders in their support of the targeted students and the related population.
Michigan lacked and needed a uniform guidance for our schools—a resource made available that would allow educators to recognize bias, prevent dangerous and damaging bias incidents, work with community leaders and targeted communities when a bias incident happens, and heal the school and community after bias incidents harm the safety of our centers of learning.
When the Michigan Organization for Adolescent Sexual Health (MOASH) recognized that bias incidents were a heightened threat to LGBTQIA students and our many other vulnerable student populations, they saw an opportunity to build a resource. The Michigan Communities Against Hate Project was born. The Lansing Association for Human Rights is proud to be one of many respected advocacy organizations that contributed to the project’s bias incident response guidance document for schools, which was generously made possible through funding from the Open Society Foundations and authored by LAHR President Emily Dievendorf in her a capacity as owner of Village Strategies LLC. and LAHR intern Olivia Brenner.
MOASH’s Michigan Communities Against Hate Project set out to create tools that would provide guidance for schools as they work to maintain a safe, inclusive, and affirming learning environment by highlighting mechanisms by which they can recognize, report, and respond to bias incidents. The project resulted in a guide for distribution or download from the MOASH website that can help educators, school administrators, and volunteers understand what makes a bias incident unique and be able to recognize one if it occurs, become more familiar with some best practices for responding to bias incidents in schools, intervene as appropriate, identify or begin to create proper channels for reporting, and collect (disaggregated) data on bias incidents.
We at LAHR invite you to visit MOASH’s website for the Bias Incident Info section to download these amazing tools for distribution to your schools and parent advocates!