We are Owatonna?
October 28, 2016
Where is the love, OHS?
As the year wrapped up around the OHS last May, students were required to take a Department of Justice School Climate Survey. Included in the survey were various questions involving exactly how safe students felt at OHS. Over the summer, the results were compiled and the information was analyzed by the OHS administration. Then, on the first day of the 2016-2017 school year, students were brought into the auditorium by class for a first day orientation with Mr. Randall. This is a yearly ritual for all students that go to the OHS, but this year it was different. It was announced that a staggering 50% of students in Owatonna compared to the report of 33% of students nationwide reported they feel unsafe at school. During orientation this year, students were shown this alarmingly high percentage of OHS students who feel unsafe at school. In TMM on the first day back, students are bombarded with the words bullies, bystander and above all, respect. To directly quote the student handbook on one of the codes of conduct for the OHS, “Students embrace diversity in a safe and welcoming environment.” These words either struck a chord with students or went through one ear and out the other..
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” King’s words are ones familiar to many young and old. While in theory, it seems like love would be something found among those of the same age group, in practice it is not the case. We have come a long way since King’s time, and yet racism, sexism, homophobia and discrimination based on religion are still issues in American society. Think about the pledge of allegiance, how much of it are individuals today living up to? “Liberty and justice for all,” is the phrase that people get hung up on because it simply is not seen anymore. All students can remember being taught the phrase, “Treat others the way you want to be treated,” from preschool on. Many know it as the golden rule, but it seems that people tend to forget as we get older. For some reason, the concept of the golden rule becomes more complicated and difficult to follow the older we get.
However, while all of these examples came from different people during different time periods, they all come down to one simple word: Respect. Respect is a feeling or understanding that someone or something is important, serious, etc., and should be treated in an appropriate way. Generally, students have a level of respect for their teachers, their parents, and their figures of authority in their lives. However, it seems like students have not been applying that principle to their peers.
Harassment around the nation
Many students always find something to start a debate out of. Whether they know they are looking for an argument or not, it is one of teenager’s favorite pastimes to voice their opinion. Where do they get the material? Current events. Looking to said events, most would say that inequality among people is a big problem in America. As students get more involved with politics, debates and the media, this negative mood towards diversity is steadily influencing students’ own opinions. Thus, there is a serious issue that high schools especially struggle with, including the OHS. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, about 22% percent of teenagers nationwide have been bullied at school.
Over the past year, the Black Lives Matter movement has come up frequently in the media. For example, 12news reported that on Oct. 12, a black man was confronted by an undercover cop in Edina, Minnesota, for simply, “walking on the wrong side of the street.” The man was then arrested for disturbing the peace, as bystanders caught this injustice on video. The bystanders tried to support the man by telling the cops the man did nothing wrong, and that he was scared because people, “die in situations like this.” This video has been picked up by many media outlets and played nationally on MSN and CNN.
It is clear that discrimination is still running rampant in America, Minnesota and even our school. One upperclassman* who has interaction with this year’s freshman class said, “I feel like this class of freshman has a lot of diversity, and I feel like there’s a lot of tension between these diversities.” Recently, a racial slur was written on the ceiling in B plaza, and there have been other instances of discrimination in the past few school years. OHS problems started with a fight in 2009. This racially charged event seemed to change the building forever. However, Owatonna High school is not in any way the only school to be struggling with these problems. Unfortunately, respect is an issue that young ones, their parents, and their parent’s parents have been facing since the beginning.
Lack of respect within the school is a common theme that has become more apparent in the everyday OHS school day. One freshman* has noticed a feeling of apathy in students. They said, “I feel like there’s a lot of ‘I’m better than you, I don’t have to treat you this way.’” There have been a series of incidents that have occurred at the OHS over the past couple years that have shown a shortage of respect within the student body. From a recent survey given to over 160 randomly selected students asking about respect and bullying about 70% acknowledged that there is a respect issue within the school. Another freshman* at the OHS who recalled their own experience said, “It was the first day of school and I didn’t know anybody. There were these really nice girls that offered me to sit with them and the majority of her group were black. So, I started to sit down with them and they started giving me these really bad looks, they started snickering and making comments to themselves about me being Mexican. It’s not hurtful to me because I’ve experienced racism before, but if it were someone else, or if it keeps going on, it could hurt somebody.” How does this happen in a school where one of three core values is “Safe and Engaging Environment”?
How is it being addressed?
It is evident there is a topic that many feel that the OHS needs to directly address, many simply do not know where to start while others think it is impossible to make any progress. One student felt that bullying is simply commonplace with teenagers and is not as big of a problem as people make it out to be. One freshman* who has experienced issues with respect first hand already this school year said, “I think it’s something we should address, but it’s also something that we are always told throughout elementary, ‘We don’t accept bullying,’ but nothing is actually done about it. It’s kind of hard to say.” While there have been an abundance of interventions, assemblies and handouts for anti-bullying and respecting your peers, the phrase “beating around the bush” could be applied to the efforts made so far. While it is no doubt a touchy subject, it is one that has to be examined for the safety of Owatonna students. Mr. Randall, OHS’ principal, was also one to recognize this.
Randall said, “Respect can be defined in many ways, but we certainly hold students accountable who are not behaving within the expectations outlined in our student handbook. With that said, students generally show respect for others and staff. Could it be better? Yes. We can always work towards being more respectful towards others.”
There are many steps students can take to create a welcoming place for all students, but a good place to start is by being open to learning about the many different backgrounds of students at the OHS. If students take an initiative to want to get to know each other outside of their regular cliques, then maybe students would gain a new respect for one another. One upperclassman* said, “I feel like everyone can work towards being more respectful to each other, and I think part of that is learning other people’s culture. Acknowledge that other people have grown up different from you and you need to respect that.” In addition to this step, students should respect the fact that every person has their own opinion because everyone comes from different backgrounds and different belief systems.
The world renowned band, The Black Eye Peas, recently remade their 2009 top hit Where is the Love? To shed some light on the lack of respect and love in our world in hopes that it would create a ripple effect. Students can take after these role models and start to do the same by applying these steps. One student* said, “I feel like if it is addressed, it probably won’t really do anything. But, at the same time it will bring awareness to the students who want to change something, and so who knows. It’s a start, you have to start somewhere, so maybe four years from now it will be better if we start now.” Even if the change starts with a small group of students, it will start a ripple effect among students throughout the school, and soon the whole school will be full of respect.
Students and staff need not feel discouraged, as if there is nothing that can be done. Currently, the OHS administration is evaluating how “safe and welcoming” the building feels. They are monitoring staff and student responses to a safety survey. This is the first step in working towards a better, safer, and more welcoming environment at OHS.
*sources are unnamed for the sake of person’s interest