City, schools plan to 'Speak Up' against racism in Lake Oswego
Students at every school in Lake Oswego will learn how to stand up and speak out against racism and bigoted hate speech next week as part of a citywide event called "Speak Up Against Racism."
Law enforcement officers and other City employees will also take part in the anti-bias training, which is a collaborative effort between the City, the Lake Oswego School District and the Lake Oswego Police Department.
Officials say the goal of the program, which is scheduled for Tuesday, May 29, is to arm members of the community with the vocabulary and strategies they need to interrupt instances of racism and discrimination when they see them.
"We are excited to bring this tool to our students and to the community at large," LOSD Superintendent Heather Beck told The Review this week. "Each of us has a responsibility to interrupt bigoted speech. We all need to practice and to have our words ready when we encounter those situations."
Lake Oswego's event is timed to coincide with workshops being held in more than 8,000 Starbucks locations across the country. The coffee retailer plans to conduct racial-bias training for its nearly 175,000 workers in the wake of a racist incident that sparked worldwide protests in April.
In that incident, two African American men were arrested for "trespassing" in Philadelphia while they were waiting for a friend in a Starbucks store.
Similar arrests have not happened in Lake Oswego, but the city has seen its share of hateful episodes, including racist graffiti scrawled on school bathroom walls and an anti-Semitic photograph posted in a school cafeteria. Most recently, an African American eighth-grader was handed a Post-it note containing the words "n****r dog" at school, an incident that prompted walkouts, workshops and even a student-organized "March for EquALLity."
Last summer, a grassroots organization called Respond to Racism began holding monthly meetings after a widely reported road rage incident involving hateful slurs directed at an African American driver. Those meetings now typically draw more than 100 people, and it was at a recent gathering that the idea for next week's anti-bias training in Lake Oswego was born.
Responding to racism
Local officials will use the "Speak Up at School Pocket Guide" to facilitate their discussions. The guide, which was designed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, includes strategies for interrupting bigoted hate speech, whether it be from a family member, friend or stranger. (See "Tips for Speaking Up," below)
Willie Poinsette, a Respond to Racism co-founder, says the "Speak Up" guide was initially brought to her attention by members of the United Church of Christ, where Respond to Racism holds its meetings. Poinsette says she and the rest of the group's steering committee loved the guide and decided to teach its material during a recent meeting.
While the guide specifically deals with discrimination in schools, Poinsette says, the tools are useful in many environments — including adult situations.
"We discussed dealing with comments with family, in the workplace and other scenarios. People shared stories about their family members who have said racist things, or off-the-cuff comments," she said. "That can be a time when it's hard to speak up, and I wanted them to have some tools for how to do so in those kinds of situations."
After the meeting, Poinsette says she was told by many people that they wished they had known the information included in the "Speak Up" guide earlier in their lives. School officials in attendance brought that information back to LOSD administrators, and the guide was in the hands of teachers throughout the district by May 20.
According to Beck, every teacher in local schools will deliver the pocket guides to students at the same time on Tuesday, no matter the grade level. "Every student and staff member will have a pocket guide," she said, "and each teacher will ensure that their students have a chance to practice their words."
"Our goal is to help all of us feel more comfortable interrupting bigoted and hateful speech when we hear it," Beck said. "As teachers, support staff and administrators, it is our responsibility to step into the role of setting an example of how we honor and respect each other."
Beck said teachers may need to make some adjustments to the material, based on grade level and the context of the course in which it is presented. But in every case, she said, "we believe this is a tangible way of reaching students directly and demonstrating our core beliefs of diversity, equity and inclusion."
A citywide approach
As the "Speak Up" guide gained traction in the school district, Lake Oswego Police Capt. Dale Jorgensen suggested expanding the training to LOPD officers and other City employees. Jorgensen and Beck were among members of a group of local leaders who traveled to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles earlier this year in search of ways to implement a broad-based, comprehensive approach to fighting bias and hatred.
"The Lake Oswego School District's values are in line with ours," Jorgensen told The Review this week, and Assistant City Manager Megan Phelan concurred. On May 29, the City will distribute information from the "Speak Up" guide to all employees, Phelan said, and "encourage them to speak up and speak out against biased remarks."
Phelan said the City remains strongly committed to its policy of inclusion, a policy reaffirmed by the City Council in a September 2017 proclamation.
"We look forward to continuing working together (with the school district) to ensure that everyone living, working or visiting Lake Oswego feels safe, secure and respected," said Jorgensen, who will become chief of the LOPD when Don Johnson retires on July 1.
Beck said she is looking forward to the citywide effort.
"In partnership with our City leaders and first responders, we all agree collectively that this could be a powerful way of addressing racism," she said. "This is a tangible example of how building relationships across the community helps everyone."
Poinsette said she is thrilled by the enthusiastic response from the school district and the City.
"I think it is absolutely wonderful," she said. "To think that we're now doing something with the police department, with the City, with the school district — that's incredible. This is our first step, and I'm very excited."
Poinsette said she's hopeful that students and employees who receive the "Speak Up" pocket guides will share the information and resources with their family and friends.
"My hope is that people will practice speaking up, not get discouraged, and share the tool with someone else," she said. "If they're in a situation when they or someone else needs to speak up, they can take out their pocket guide and share their tools."
TIPS FOR SPEAKING UP
Here are the Southern Poverty Law Center's tools for speaking up against hateful speech:
Interrupt: Speak up against every biased remark — every time, in the moment, without exception. Think about what you'll say ahead of time so you're prepared to act instantly.
Try saying: "I don't like words like that," or "That phrase is hurtful."
Question: Ask simple questions in response to hateful remarks to find out why the speaker made the offensive comment and how you can best address the situation.
Try asking: "Why do you say that?" "What do you mean?" Or "Tell me more."
Educate: Explain why a term or phrase is offensive. Encourage the person to choose a different expression. Hate isn't behind all hateful speech. Sometimes ignorance is at work, or lack of exposure to a diverse population.
Try saying: "Do you know the history of that word?"
Echo: If someone else speaks up against hate, thank her and reiterate her anti-bias message. One person's voice is a powerful start. Many voices together create change.
Try saying: "Thanks for speaking up. I agree that word is offensive and we shouldn't use it."