HRC Blog

Bullying the “Wrong” Student

Welcoming schoolsPost by Rohmteen Mokhtari, Former HRC Coordinator, Family Project

Since Sunday’s heartbreaking shooting at a Sikh gurdwara in Wisconsin, many have noted that much of the discrimination and harassment faced by Sikh Americans is based on anti-Muslim prejudice and an inability to distinguish between the Sikh and Muslim faiths.
Such prejudice can also be seen in the classroom where Sikh students have reported alarming rates of bullying particularly since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11th.
Reflecting on this fact I am reminded of an observation I often hear from those working in elementary schools as part of the HRC Foundation's Welcoming Schools program. When a student is the target of a homophobic slur, it rarely has anything to do with their sexual orientation.
Far more often it is about what they look like, how they speak, where they are from, who is a part of their family, what they are wearing or their abilities and disabilities.
In other words, it is not necessarily about that student being gay, just different.
Just as many Sikh students are targeted for bullying not because they are perceived to be Sikh, just different.
In both cases it can be tempting to try to address the bullying without touching the underlying issues.
To tell students that they should simply never use the word "gay" or to (accurately) point out that Sikh students aren't Muslim and stop there.
But such band-aid approaches do little to address the fear of those who are different that underlies the name-calling and bullying. To truly address the issue we must challenge students to recognize and celebrate the differences that make each of their peers unique.
And we must challenge the prejudices that make homophobic and islamophobic slurs powerful enough to be wielded against any student who appears different.
After all, would it be any less tragic if the student subjected to homophobic slurs really was gay? If the student being bullied for being Muslim really was Muslim?
Welcoming Schools provides elementary schools with tools to embrace family diversity, address gender stereotyping and end name-calling and bullying.
For tips and resources on discussing Sikhism in the classroom check out the Sikh Coalition’s Resources for Educators.

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