The best way to stop hate is to start small, according to Brian Goldberg, director of the Anti-Defamation League's Pacific Northwest Region office.
Goldberg visited with Juneau School District administrators, teachers and students last week about ways reduce prejudice and discrimination in local schools. He described a pyramid of hate with stereotypes of the bottom, prejudice and discrimination in the middle, and hate crimes at the top.
"One of the things that's not unique about Juneau or Alaska is that regardless of what the population size for minorities is, students are aware of the stereotypes associated with those minorities. Because of mass media, books, television, computers, the Internet ... the kids know all of the stereotypes already," he said.
One way to make a difference is to set up a zero-tolerance policy for ethnic and racial slurs and attacks on a person's gender or sexual orientation, Goldberg said. Using the word Jew to mean cheap or thrifty or the word gay to mean stupid or gross can undermine a student's desire to be in school, he said.
"Inappropriate language can lead to a hostile learning environment for students. We need an environment of inclusion instead of exclusion in the schools," he said.
A majority of students don't use such terms out of malice, but rather out of ignorance, Goldberg said, and teachers, administrators and students can use incidents as an opportunity to educate others.
"If you want to say something is gross or stupid, we already have language for that. You don't need to put someone down to get a point across," he said.
Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School Principal Les Morse said staff members have training on racial and socio-economic discrimination issues, but keeping a dialogue about such issues on the front burner is important. Staff members are interested in having a consistent and uniform approach to address slurs and stereotypes, he said.
"We need to teach students about the power their words have," he said.
The Anti-Defamation League is a national organization that addresses hatred, bigotry and prejudice through education, legislation, the courts and other action.
Goldberg spoke with Juneau residents about a year ago and the Juneau Jewish Community asked him visit again, said Natalee Rothaus, board co-chairperson.
"It was of great to concern to hear that negative comments are so prevalent (at Juneau's schools). Kids don't really know what they're saying," she said.
Goldberg also met with Knowles administration officials to discuss hate crime legislation and the state Commission on Tolerance. The Anti-Defamation League can also provide training for Alaska law enforcement officers about hate crimes and ways to reduce prejudice, he said.
Joanna Markell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.