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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.

Scenario

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.”

You agree
You say, “Uh yeah, I guess it’s fine if you’re just joking. It was pretty funny.”

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: While you initially intervened in a safe and appropriate manner, you supported racist behaviour by agreeing that racist jokes were acceptable. Jokes are one of many ways to legitimise and get away with racism. It is important to call this out, and support victims of racism where appropriate.

You Disagree
You say, “Well it’s not funny. Stop it now.” Another classmate says, “Yeah leave her alone. She didn’t do anything.”

Ending: The group members just laugh and carry on with their work. The student in the hijab turns to you and the other student, smiles and says thanks.

Comment: You have successfully intervened during an incident of racism. You have called out the racism and supported the victim and you have done this in a safe manner. By speaking up, you have also encouraged another classmate to take action against racism.

It is also important to follow up with the victim and see how they are feeling. As important as it is to speak up against racism, it is also important to support individuals who are on the receiving end of this discrimination.

Get the attention of your teacher
You raise your hand and get the attention of your classroom teacher.

Ending: You explain what happened and the classroom teacher prompts and redirects the students to behave respectfully.

Comment: When they think the teacher is not looking, the group continue to make snide comments about the student’s hijab. The teacher turns, hearing this and immediately intervenes. The students are disciplined for their behaviour.

The teacher reports this incident, and also extends support to the victim of racism.