Culture Over Coffee, Episode #7: Hate rising among teens

Welcome to Culture over Coffee, the Spartan Shield’s podcast where we talk about pop culture, new trends, and other news outside of the PV school district over a cup of coffee.

Episode #7: The US has been experiencing a recent spike in hate crimes among adolescents. Students from Orange County, Cali. posted a picture of themselves Sieg Heiling over a Swastika made out of red plastic cups. Pleasant Valley experienced what many students are calling a similar event in November, when hateful graffiti was discovered in school bathrooms. In this episode, Shield hosts Shreya Khurjeker and Nathan Wong interview junior Jacob Holland, who shares his perspective as a Jewish student, and history teacher Sara Russell, who provides a historical perspective.

Shreya Khurjeker had strong opinions of her own. Her editorial on the subject follows:

“An alarming rise in K-12 hate crimes”

Hate infiltrated Pleasant Valley in November. With those events fresh in the minds of most PV students, reading the national news has many feeling déjà vu.

Students from Orange County, Calif. gained national attention after posting anti-Semitic pictures on several social media platforms on March 4. The students pictured were Sieg Heiling over a Swastika constructed with red plastic cups.

Along with being reprimanded for their apparent underage drinking, these students must face the consequences of their highly extremist actions.

Jacob Holland, a Jewish student at PV, said, “There’s so much of a disconnect between what people think they’re doing and what they’re actually doing. They don’t equate drawing [a Swastika] to the real history behind it. They don’t understand the gravity of those symbols and gestures.”

The incident from Orange County is remarkably similar to events that transpired within the walls–and bathroom stalls–of Pleasant Valley High School first semester. However, there is one major difference. One captured national attention and the other was merely swept under the rug.

The latest statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation have revealed a disturbing 17 percent increase in the number of reported hate crimes from the previous year. Sara Russell, history and government teacher at PV, said, “I don’t know what has happened. It’s like we’re taking steps backwards instead of forward.”

This country has endured so much in its effort to embrace diversity, and these events are reversing the progress.

While hate crime statistics are on the rise, the prevalence of this violence among adolescent populations has simultaneously increased, which begs the question: Why?

Reporting hate crimes to the FBI is not mandatory. The over 7,000 hate crimes documented in 2017 only account for a fraction of the hate crimes that have truly been committed.

Often victims choose not to come forward due to the fear of skepticism. Russell commented, “It’s hard for kids to stand up to their friends because kids want to be accepted.”  For this reason, numbers are drastically underreported, while exact statistics are likely much greater.

It is no coincidence that teenagers have begun accepting these hateful behaviors. Teens are exposed to hateful content more often than ever before.

Bad news dominates the headlines on social media, and teenagers are drawn to it. Holland said, “People tend to crave the negative things and the scandal. This, in turn, creates a culture of perpetuating negative thoughts.” The more teenagers see this hatred and bigotry on social media, the more normalized it becomes.

Social media has made it easier for students to engage in hateful activities. Holland said, “Nowadays, kids have access to social media and this type of anonymity where they can say whatever they want.” These “anonymous” social media sites allow kids to say things from behind a screen they would not dare say in person.

As NPR’s Emily Sullivan reported, “K-12 schools [have] surpassed public areas as the locations with the highest number of anti-Semitic incidents.” Now go back and reread that sentence – it’s a disgusting and disturbing fact.

Students have an unquestionable defense mechanism that shields them against anything potentially incriminating: the notorious “Oh, I’m just kidding.” Holland said, “We’ve fostered a culture where saying ‘Oh, I’m just joking’ suddenly condones any behavior.” Teens believe this empty phrase can protect them from any adverse outcomes. It certainly seems to have worked at PV in the case of the bathroom hate graffiti.

The United States prides itself on being an inclusive melting pot of cultures but continues to both consciously and unconsciously isolate minorities. Minorities, of any kind, have overcome tremendous amounts of adversity. However, they are still not accepted in mainstream society because of inconsiderate extremists continuously belittling and taunting their beliefs.

We can do better.