Students across the country have experienced an increase in hate, bullying, and harassment. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reporting program, hate crime incidents in schools (K-12 and college) increased from 472 in 2014 to 485 in 2015, and jumped to over 600 in 2016.
The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance program conducted an online survey of K-12 educators in the aftermath of the 2016 election. The survey showed an increase in targeting and harassment that “skyrocketed.” As the results noted, the effect of this increase on schools and students is “profoundly negative,” and included increased anxiety amongst students, leaving educators with “an oversized job” as they work to “heal the rifts within school communities.”
Fortunately, there are organizations across the country that work to support youth in schools and heal tensions in classrooms and beyond that can be called on to help. One such organization is Empower MT. Empower MT, a Montana based nonprofit that serves Montana communities with a focus on empowering those targeted by prejudice and mistreatment.
Jesse Jaeger, Empower MT’s Director of Operations, discussed the work that Empower MT has done across the state and the current climate in Montana, “Montana has long been at the center of white supremacy, but there has been more permissiveness about hateful rhetoric and direct attacks on targeted communities in the last couple years.” Empower MT is often asked to visit schools and conduct one of their leadership or anti-racism trainings, offered both for students and educators. They have been called on to host trainings at schools or in communities where racially charged incidents have occurred, and work to reduce prejudice, prevent violence, and resolve conflict.
Their course curriculum provides support and leadership development to youth across the state that helps resolve and heal tensions in classrooms, and empower students to fight against inequalities. Students, like
Jessica Beers of Missoula Montana, who attended an Empower MT training at her high school and was inspired to work with peers and staff at Empower MT to combat bullying in schools. In fact, Jessica went on to lead trainings to hundreds of her peers across Montana to end bullying. She joined others in the state capitol to lobby for stronger state legislation to address bullying. She also fought for LGBTQ rights and worked to get local leaders to make the community more accessible to people with diverse abilities.
During a time when hate incidents at schools have skyrocketed, Empower MT’s mission to create a more just an inclusive society by developing youth and adult leaders who work to end mistreatment, correct systematic inequalities and strengthen communities across Montana is even more critical. During these times of increased tensions, Jaegar finds hope in the resiliency of youth leaders.
“There is a powerful generation of youth leaders right now that are doing amazing things. Youth leaders on reservations, in rural areas, and in cities are all rising up and saying ‘Hey – You need to listen to us.’ It is powerful to watch it happen. They have the analytical skills to understand systematic racism. We can’t just pay attention to the media – this is where the systemic change will happen.”
Empower MT provides support and empowers these youth leaders to use their platforms for positive change. Since its founding in 1998, they have provided support to and trained over 50,000 individuals across Montana, and they are showing no signs of slowing down.
To learn more about Empower MT’s work, visit www.empowermt.org.