Bystander action – choose your own adventure
Disclaimer: As a student, you should always comply with your school’s health and safety policies. Do not intervene if you are putting yourself or others at risk of injury or harm.
You are a high school student in your English class. A group of your classmates who are late from lunch noisily enter the classroom. They sit at your table. To your left sits a classmate wearing a hijab.
One of the group members looks over at the student wearing the hijab and smirks to his friends. He walks up to this student and asks, “Where’d you get your scarf from?” another friend chimes in, “Your tea towel, I really like it. You know in Australia we use tea towels for washing dishes.” The friend grabs the end of the scarf and wiggles it around. They all laugh and the student wearing the hijab looks down.
What would you do?
Action 1: Do nothing and continue to observe behaviour
Ending: The student gets up out of her seat and runs out of the classroom. Her head is down and she does not make eye contact with anyone as she walks off. The group laughs and jeers as she leaves.
Comment: You were a bystander during an incident of racism and took no action. Next time, try to help and facilitate a better outcome.
Action 2: Intervene- Walk up to one of the members and shove their shoulder.
Ending: You walk up to one of the group members and shove their shoulder. He shoves you back and one of his friends grabs your arms. You exchange blows and the classroom teacher quickly intervenes and separates both of you. You both get sent to the principal’s office and are given warnings of suspension.
Comment: This is not acceptable student behaviour or bystander action. You should endeavour to intervene in a safe manner and not endanger yourself or others. Furthermore, the incident of racism was not addressed, which has rendered this intervention ineffective.
Action 3: Speak up. You look at the group and say, “Hey guys. Leave her alone.”
You notice some other classmates nod in approval. One of the members respond, “Oh come on we were just having a laugh.”