SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s NAACP chapter is urging the state’s schools to be proactive about preventing racial slurs and prejudiced bullying that the organization says have been on the rise since the 2016 presidential election.
Jeanetta Williams, president of NAACP’s tri-state conference area of Idaho-Utah-Nevada, on Tuesday called the issue “a serious problem.”
A day earlier, she met for roughly two hours with approximately 100 superintendents, administrators and principals to urge them to be on the lookout for incidents of racism before they occur.
“What we wanted to do is let them know that we are aware of the problem,” Williams said.
“We’re not saying that we’re looking to go and punish (students) harshly. We’re saying we need to educate our young people, to let them know that their actions are unacceptable.”
The NAACP office has seen a noticeable uptick in reports about racialized attacks at school over the last 18 months, Williams said. They include cases immediately after the election in which Latino students were taunted with they would “have to move back to Mexico.” In October, school officials took action against a group of white teenage girls shown on video yelling a racial slur and laughing.
“Before, we may have gotten maybe one or two in a whole year,” she said. “And now, since the election, it’s gone up. Just over the year we’ve probably had 20 or maybe a little bit over.”
Across the country, the NAACP’s national office has warned that “bigotry has become mainstream” since the election of President Donald Trump.
School administrators who attended Monday’s meeting want to make sure “that the little bits of incidences that they’re aware of not escalate to something worse,” said Terry Shoemaker, the executive director of the Utah School Superintendents Association.
Judging from the response Monday, Shoemaker said he believes school leaders are “taking it seriously.” he said.
Now, he said, local school boards and districts will need to develop and implement their own policies.
“It was just the start of the conversation, not the end of it,” he said.