How Are Students Impacted by Hate Speech?

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     Our school is widely diverse, but with diversity comes differences that some may not understand, and deal with through hateful words. Hate speech is harmful or threatening language towards a group based on prejudice. It comes in the form of using hurtful words, knowing what they mean, or making fun of those with differences you may not understand. Such words are thrown around often on campus, and many believe they are fleeting with no staying power. However, consider the mindset of those receiving hate and how it impacts them.

     The nature of hate speech is to instill fear in those receiving it, so they feel wrong for factors out of their control. Words begin to resonate and the potential for harm becomes real. When threats are repeated and the situation becomes increasingly extreme, students fear for their emotional, mental, and physical safety. They may not know how to react to hate speech or how to stand against it.

     For some, taking themselves away from hurtful language seems like the only option. Targets of hate speech begin to isolate themselves from other students, wanting to get away from those judging or hurting them. For those who don’t know what can be done about it, they begin to feel angered or lonely, with continuous use of such language forcing them only further away. It creates an “us versus them” scenario, when students should be working together to slow down hate speech.

     It then becomes a situation where hate speech is the norm. People toss words around as though they are meaningless, harming others in the process. School becomes a place where ignorance flourishes and hate is normalized. Social media is a heavy influencer in what teens see as acceptable, so students should take caution in what they decide to adapt into their own lives.

     However, there are times when words are thrown around that aren’t necessarily hate speech. The speaker may not understand the meaning of the word or is using it as an explanatory tool. In a school as diverse as ours, there are students who come from cultures where such language might be socially acceptable in their home country, or have different connotations. If they genuinely do not know that what they are saying is harmful, have patience with them and tell them why it is wrong. People begin to forget the history of such words and take their own meaning to it. Not everyone means to offend others with their words. Take what others say into context, and consider if they knew the magnitude of what they said and if they maliciously intended to target someone.

     Hate speech, while still a prominent issue, is getting more discussion that it used to. Teens are beginning to hold each other accountable and take action through marches against hate and events that promote treating others as equals. Hate speech actually hurts, even when people think it doesn’t. Consider the context, but take action if you see it occur. Be proud of who you are, and do your part against hate speech at school.