I can’t be surprised by the decision of the Rittenhouse case, but that lack of surprise doesn’t diminish the pain and the hurt. We should anticipate that many people in your school community will be reeling from this verdict. This will further add to the stress in school communities where parents and politicians argue that race and racism should not be discussed in schools.
This decision shows the disparity of our legal system. If Kyle Rittenhouse were black, the outcome would be significantly different. Furthermore, self-defense is being used in the Ahmaud Arbery case as well. This is racism– a system that teaches people that black and brown bodies are less than others. It is no wonder then that these cases carry significant weight in our schools.
As leaders committed to social justice, antiracism, and equity we need to focus on making sure that we establish psychologically and emotionally safe spaces in our schools. Students may expect you to respond to the Rittenhouse case.
Here are a few ideas to keep in mind:
1. Ignoring this event is normalizing the event. Students are learning about this case on social media. They will have questions and opinions. Whether it’s an announcement, optional student and/or faculty meetings, or classroom discussions this event should be discussed.
2. It’s ok to name racism. There is a long history of acquittals such as this when white people get off for murdering black people. To ignore racism in these situations just empowers the system.
3. Provide space for affinity groups for students and staff of color. This is particularly important in majority-white schools. Allow for people of color time to be together. Make sure students are with an adult that they trust and want to be there.
4. We need to take care of the adults. This event impacts all staff. We need to give language for staff to be able to tell students that they are not ready to talk about what happened. One possible sentence–“I know we are trying to make sense of what happened, I’m not ready to facilitate a discussion about it today. If you need to process it the school has set up a forum for the community.” We also sometimes offer our counselors as a resource for students. Let’s make sure our counselors have the space to attend to their needs.
5. Discussions need to be focused on learning and understanding. As stated before, we need to ensure the psychological and emotional safety of all. Therefore, discussions need to have a structure with clear guidelines/norms and questions. Giving students space to ask questions (even if we can’t answer the questions) is a great strategy as is asking students how they are processing the events is great. Leading a debate provides a great risk of not meeting our goal of psychological and emotional safety.
Check out our video on how to respond to a racial crisis youtu.be/SMIpHSVxcwI
In this work together!