"It Sounds Strange, but we were Hoping for more Racism": What I Learned from a well-Intentioned High School Survey
In 2005, I worked as a consultant for a coalition group comprised of education board members, community activists, teachers and social workers whose goal was to create programming to combat violence in America’s high schools. Using the Local School Climate Survey, I measured the frequency of racist, sexist and homophobic remarks that occur in and around school property. Five high schools participated in the study, and a total of 626 completed surveys were used in this analysis. While the results of the study are informative, and highlight the need for a diverse set of programs to combat racism, sexism and homophobia in schools, this is only half of the story. What was most surprising about the results was the response from coalition members who had hired me to conduct the initial analysis. There was a general discontent that racism was not the primary concern of students, but that homophobic remarks were more prevalent. The chair of the committee replied with “it sounds strange, but we were hoping for more racism.” This experience illuminates not only the problem of homophobia in America’s high schools, but also the degree to which societal unwillingness to address issues surrounding sexism and homophobia affects students’ daily experiences within the high school setting. This experience highlights some of the problems facing people who want to tailor programs to create healthier school climates that actually address the problems at hand instead of the more politically safe issues.
Keywords: High School Politics, Politics of Social Science, Racism, Sexism, Homophobia
Doctoral Candidate, Department of Sociology, Case Western Reserve University