According to Andrea Roberts, a research scientist with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, traumatic events “…are incidents that make you believe you are in danger of being seriously injured or losing your life.” The current uptick in recorded use of excessive force by police resulting in the loss of life of Black people has created a series of well-publicized traumatizing events, as noted by the American Bar Association.
How does this trauma impact students’ ability to learn? According to research done by The Citizen Commission on Academic Success for Boston Children, “Schools are significant communities in the lives of children. They can be safe havens that effectively address the impact trauma has on learning, or they can unwittingly compound the problem through punitive policies and practices that retraumatize children.”
For nearly a year, Black students and Black educators have braced for the outcome of a profound trauma: The death of George Floyd at the hands of Derek Chauvin, a former police officer. Yesterday, Chauvin was found guilty of murder. This verdict is not justice; it’s accountability. Accountability is the bare minimum we should expect when a man is murdered by those sworn to protect and serve. The trauma still remains.
What happens once Black students and educators return to their schools and resume the procedural act of teaching and learning? How will non-Black students, teachers, and other educators respond? Will they choose to be upstanders or bystanders? Bystanders stand and observe unjust behaviors and move about their day. Nothing is disrupted or changed.
Upstanders choose to do the following:
- Learn about white supremacy systems and institutions and how oppressive acts create traumatic experiences.
- Be a friend; learn to listen with an empathic heart.
- Confront harmful and untrue historical information in curriculum, policies, and practices.
- Get your friends and family involved as you become more educated on anti-racist behaviors; share your knowledge with friends and family.
- Make friends with people outside your immediate social circle. Share a meal with them. Ask how you can help or assist them during this troubling time. Get out of your comfort zone!
- Observe how policies (grading, discipline, dress code) and practices (homework, detentions, suspensions) regarding student behavior are implemented. Suggest and advocate for a dismantling of oppressive policies and procedures.
- Refuse to be a bystander and upstand with those in the BIPOC community. When you witness something racist or oppressive, speak up and say, “This is not right. This is creating more trauma and needs to change in order to break the cycle of oppression.”
- Learn to respect those who are different from you; start a club or group that celebrates the richness of everyone’s uniqueness.
- Develop an upstander program that promotes dismantling racist policies and practices that lead to cycles of trauma.
(Adapted from www.bullybust.org/upstander.)
By working together, survivors of systemic racism will welcome your allyship and know they are not alone. This will allow time and space for healing to occur by invoking changes in policies and practices closest to them.