Filled with Students or Filled with Hate?


High school is hard enough as it is; being in an environment where a person has no choice but to be constantly looking over their shoulders for fear of safety makes participating in school feel like an impossible task.  As stated in the SPASH academic guide, “At SPASH, we [the administration] work diligently to accomplish the district mission to ‘Prepare Each Student to be Successful’. We believe all students can achieve at high levels. It is our responsibility to set high expectations, promote academic rigor, develop strong character, and to improve student engagement in a safe learning environment.” In a big school, such as SPASH, it is hard to watch out for everyone; many groups of students and their safety are being overlooked by the administration. While the school claims to be a safe place, many students feel unsafe while on school grounds. 

LGBTQ+ Community 

Although the LGBTQ+ community has become more accepted by society, many students in this group experience hate speech or harassment at school. LGBTQ+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or question, and others who may not fall into one specific category. A 2011 National School Climate Survey, run by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, found that one-third of this group had skipped a class because they felt unsafe at school. There are many legitimate reasons to miss class, such as a doctor’s appointment or being stuck at home sick; missing class due to an unsafe environment should not fall under the umbrella of normalized reasons to be gone from school. 

81.9% of the LQBTQ+ community have experienced verbal harassment based on their sexual orientation. Well over a majority of this group have to go through life in a hate speech spewing society simply because they are different from the heteronormative societal standards. Sexual orientation, according to Oxford Languages, is “a person’s identity in relation to the gender or genders to which they are sexually attracted; the fact of being heterosexual, homosexual, etc.” Put in simple terms, sexual orientation is the type of people someone is sexually attracted to based on gender. 

Looking back at the 2011 national survey, 63.5% of the LGBTQ+ community has felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation. Whether someone is attracted to the same gender or the opposite gender they deserve to feel safe at school. 

 Along with sexual orientation, students also experience verbal harassment on the based on their gender expression. The way in which a person expresses their gender identity, typically through their appearance, dress, and behavior, is the dictionary definition of gender expression. 63.9% of this group has experienced verbal harassment because of their gender expression according to the 2011 survey run by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network. Verbal harassment is not the only type of harassment, but it is the most common and most overlooked. 

A SPASH student, who is part of the LGBTQ+ community, wrote a statement in a survey about feeling safe at school;

It is a normal occurrence to hear anti-LGBTQ+ speech in the hallways and classrooms at SPASH. I don’t feel safe coming out because this hate speech is so normalized that I feel I will be targeted if I do come out. I’m choosing to put myself through the pain of being misgendered instead of becoming the victim of a hate crime.

School Shootings and Bomb Threats 

Feeling safe at school is nearly impossible when school shootings and bombings are so normalized. In 2019, SPASH experienced a bomb threat. A couple of years later many of the students who experienced that have graduated and only the once sophomores now seniors remain at the school that once caused so much stress and confusion. 

A SPASH senior noted that during her 10th-grade year she was “met with bomb threats… welcome to SPASH.” The school responded to these threats by shutting the school down for a short period of time and searching bags when students did come back to school. During this time rumors spread throughout social media causing a wave of panic. “It was very scary not knowing what was going to happen.” 

Thankfully the threat was never carried out, but many schools are not so lucky. Between 1970 and 2019, the Sandy Hook Promise organization has found 1,316 cases of school shootings in the United States. If that number was spread throughout the 49 years evenly, that translates to roughly two school shootings a month. 

On top of that awful number, the Sandy Hook Promise also found that in about 4 out of 5 school shootings at least one other person had knowledge of the attackers’ plan but failed to report it. Based on the 1,316 school shootings, if 80% of them had been reported and stopped, there is a possibility that there would have been 1,052 fewer shootings since 1970. If students trusted their school administration, in theory, they would have reported that knowledge. 

Sexual Harassment 

Experiencing sexual harassment can cause feelings of anxiety, depression, and lower self-esteem as well as feeling objectified by the perpetrators. As much as people like to assume schools are a bubble of safety, many people experience sexual harassment at school creating an unsafe environment. 

The most common age for people to experience sexual harassment is between the ages of 14-17 according to a national survey conducted by Stop Street Harassment in 2018. Most students in high school are around that same age; along with dealing with the stress of school, they have to deal with the wave of emotions that come from harassment. 

The 2018 survey also found that 14% of females and 22% of males first sexual harassment experience happened at school. I was sexually assaulted on school grounds but at the time I did not realize it. I dug myself into a hole of depression and multiple years later I was able to pinpoint the trauma that caused the spiral. The person who committed this terrible act continues to do it to other people but there is no way for the school to stop it because police reports have to be filed. For that to happen, the victim has to put themselves in an even more vulnerable place to gather the courage to file a report that may not even change anything. In my experience, the administration puts the perpetrator before the victim. 

Schools overlook what is spewing out of students’ mouths. “When I am walking in the hallways it’s like everyone is window shopping. Not to say that everyone is staring, but I can feel the eyes on me. And it’s terrifying. I can’t even count the times that I have been sexually harassed within a school’s walls” says a SPASH student. Passing time should be a time to relax and talk with friends, not a time to rush to the next class for the fear of what is being said in the hallways. 

Application in Real Life

School should be a safe place for everyone. Although the administration sometimes lacks implementing safety, it also falls on the shoulders of fellow students. Be kind to one another; everyone is going through something even if they do not show it. When speaking, listen to what is being said and ask yourself if this is hurtful to someone. There are things that can be changed to make schools a safer place; all it takes is a little bit of self-awareness.