Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Racist Bullard Photo Is Teachable Moment That Deserves More Than Knee-Jerk Response
GV-Wire-1
By gvwire
Published 2 years ago on
May 20, 2022

Share

 

Like many Fresno residents, I was deeply shocked last week by a photo portraying a student at Bullard High School in a makeshift hood resembling those of the Ku Klux Klan. How can Black students possibly feel safe at school after an incident like this?

Susan Wittrup

Opinion

Given the intense reaction this photo has garnered, Fresno Unified owes it to students, staff, and parents to conduct a thorough investigation to fully understand how this incident came to occur. Most importantly, Superintendent Bob Nelson and board trustees should make the results of the investigation public and articulate a steadfast commitment to protecting the safety and well-being of the students impacted, as well as the students involved.

As long as racism exists in society, it will exist in our schools. For the adults, it’s time for us to take a step back. The impact of reacting to our own unprocessed trauma, personally and collectively, can be just as detrimental as the incident itself, and sometimes more so. It is incumbent on each of us to examine our own attitudes and extinguish hate and intolerance wherever we encounter it.

Knee-Jerk Reactions Harmful

As a school psychologist who works with families in the Bullard area, I’ve heard conflicting reports about what occurred on campus and I’m concerned that there is more to this story than a single photograph portrays.

Knee-jerk reactions aimed to stoke political fervor only serve to further traumatize the very students who need our protection and with whom we are entrusted to teach. Caught up in crisis, we are often quick to adopt a zero-tolerance policy and simply suspend or expel those involved to stop the behavior and restore a sense of safety at the school.

But, short-term fixes have unintended consequences. Quickly expelling students may inadvertently over-punish some, resulting in resentment and lawsuits, thereby, potentially pushing youths into circumstances that only sharpen their desire to commit further harm.

Equally destructive is when concerns are brushed off, allowing pain and resentment to fester. We must focus on how actions that harm others —regardless of intent — can be repaired, not swept under the rug, because the individual didn’t mean to do anything wrong. In the aftermath of an incident, adult responses must be informed by the facts before taking actions that minimize or exaggerate what occurred.

Put Supportive Structures in Place

Another challenge is having the trained staff and supportive structures in place to address incidents strategically, and the determination, courage, and wisdom to follow through despite the flurry of media attention and demands from parents and students who feel powerless to make it stop.

The district should go even further to address systemic racism locally with the development of curriculum that focuses specifically on the history of racism in Fresno so that “teachable moments” continue for years to come. It’s not often we get handed sweeping, teachable moments. It’s my hope that we can all learn from this one.

The phrase “teachable moment” is used to describe a point in time when educators have the opportunity to deliver a powerful message in a way that makes a light go on. Teachable moments are not just for kids. Adults need to learn from them as well.

Schools that take a proactive approach and use restorative processes can manage the impact of harmful incidents, increase empathy and rebuild their school cultures. Restorative justice (RJ) is an umbrella term for practices aimed at changing responses, reducing trauma, and promoting healing. Schools with RJ structures in place can move quickly to de-escalate tensions and identify pathways for people to take responsibility and show a willingness to make amends.

For the students involved to hear directly from their peers how their actions impacted them can be transformative. This kind of intensive, supportive engagement helps them gain perspective on the roots of their prejudices, anger, and other emotions. When RJ processes are done well, all participants will experience an increased sense of safety, accountability, closure, and a greater possibility for real changes in behavior and attitudes.

The district should go even further to address systemic racism locally with the development of curriculum that focuses specifically on the history of racism in Fresno so that “teachable moments” continue for years to come. It’s not often we get handed sweeping, teachable moments. It’s my hope that we can all learn from this one.

About the Author

Susan Wittrup, a school psychologist for 35 years with Fresno Unified School District, is running for the Bullard High-area seat on the school board in the November election.

GV Wire Op-Eds

GV Wire invites robust discussion on Valley issues, as well as national and current events. Submit your op-eds via email to rreed@gvwire.com. Please include a one-sentence bio and a portrait.

RELATED TOPICS:

DON'T MISS

Netanyahu Dismisses Calls for Restraint, Says Israel Will Decide Iran Attack Response

DON'T MISS

New Study Calculates Climate Change’s Economic Bite Will Hit About $38 Trillion a Year by 2049

DON'T MISS

Biden Pledges to Block Japanese Takeover of US Steel and Promises Tariffs on Chinese Steel

DON'T MISS

Don Arax Talks About His New Football Job at Visalia’s Central Valley Christian

DON'T MISS

Dem House Challengers Salas, Gray Flex Fundraising Muscle

DON'T MISS

Career-High Strike Outs for Ryan Weathers as Marlins Best Giants 6-3

DON'T MISS

LeBron’s Lakers Top Pelicans in Play-in, Set up Playoff Rematch With Nuggets

DON'T MISS

Storm Dumps Record Rain and Floods Dubai’s Airport

DON'T MISS

Mookie Betts Matches Career Best with 5 Hits in Dodgers’ 6-2 Victory Over Nationals

DON'T MISS

Klay Thompson Misses All 10 Shots in Potential Last Game With the Warriors

UP NEXT

Coalinga-Huron Teachers Say They’ll Strike Unless a Fair Contract Is Offered

UP NEXT

CA’s High Construction Costs Limit Housing. A Supreme Court Decision Might Help

UP NEXT

Now’s the Time to Register for FUSD’s Free Preschool and T-K

UP NEXT

‘Hopeville’ Literacy Documentary Showing Tonight at Roosevelt High

UP NEXT

It’s ‘Signing Day’ for These Clovis Unified Youngsters

UP NEXT

A Fresno Edition of Monopoly? That’s Capitalism at Work, Baby!

UP NEXT

Biden’s Embrace of Trump’s Tariffs Could Spell Trouble for His Reelection: Fareed Zakaria

UP NEXT

Career Technical Ed, Pre-K Could Be Hardest Hit in Budget Cuts

UP NEXT

‘Digital Democracy’ Project Penetrates California’s Opaque Political Processes

UP NEXT

16 Clovis Students Rewarded With Scholarships for Their Resilience

Don Arax Talks About His New Football Job at Visalia’s Central Valley Christian

1 hour ago

Dem House Challengers Salas, Gray Flex Fundraising Muscle

3 hours ago

Career-High Strike Outs for Ryan Weathers as Marlins Best Giants 6-3

3 hours ago

LeBron’s Lakers Top Pelicans in Play-in, Set up Playoff Rematch With Nuggets

3 hours ago

Storm Dumps Record Rain and Floods Dubai’s Airport

3 hours ago

Mookie Betts Matches Career Best with 5 Hits in Dodgers’ 6-2 Victory Over Nationals

3 hours ago

Klay Thompson Misses All 10 Shots in Potential Last Game With the Warriors

3 hours ago

NBA Bans Jontay Porter for Life After Probe Shows He Bet on Games

4 hours ago

Carbon Capture Isn’t Nearly as ‘Green’ as Fossil Fuel Promoters Make It Sound

4 hours ago

Southern California City Council Gives Key Approval for Disneyland Expansion Plan

4 hours ago

Netanyahu Dismisses Calls for Restraint, Says Israel Will Decide Iran Attack Response

JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday his country would be the one to decide whether and how to respond to Ir...

13 mins ago

13 mins ago

Netanyahu Dismisses Calls for Restraint, Says Israel Will Decide Iran Attack Response

23 mins ago

New Study Calculates Climate Change’s Economic Bite Will Hit About $38 Trillion a Year by 2049

45 mins ago

Biden Pledges to Block Japanese Takeover of US Steel and Promises Tariffs on Chinese Steel

1 hour ago

Don Arax Talks About His New Football Job at Visalia’s Central Valley Christian

3 hours ago

Dem House Challengers Salas, Gray Flex Fundraising Muscle

3 hours ago

Career-High Strike Outs for Ryan Weathers as Marlins Best Giants 6-3

3 hours ago

LeBron’s Lakers Top Pelicans in Play-in, Set up Playoff Rematch With Nuggets

3 hours ago

Storm Dumps Record Rain and Floods Dubai’s Airport

MENU

CONNECT WITH US

Search

Send this to a friend