With the Black population diminishing at local schools, some Black students are relying on Dream Centers to deal with bullying and harassment.
By Jason Lewis
Many local high schools in areas that have the highest concentrations of Black people no longer have predominantly Black student populations. As Black students are finding themselves in the minority, they have experienced various forms of hate crime. The state of California has a Stop the Hate program, and Los Angeles County has created the Dream Centers, with centers at Inglewood High School and Morningside High School.
“The Dream Centers come from the fact that we are aware of the number of acts of hate incidents that involve bullying and harassment that students have reported historically, particularly marginalized students, racial minorities, LGBTQ students, and religious minorities,” said Robin Toma, executive director of the L.A. County Commission on Human Relations. “We’re aware that it’s something that’s a strong need in our schools. We’ve seen students who are afraid to come out of the classroom at lunchtime because of the fear of being harassed. The Dream Centers have created a safe space where those students will be supported by staff, by one another, and have the opportunity to have a place where they can raise concerns and get help in a very confidential and supportive way.”
These centers give students a safe place to do school work, offers peer to peer counseling, and encourage students to participate in civic engagement. The peer-to-peer counseling is important because many students feel more comfortable confiding in fellow students.
“A lot of people don’t feel comfortable going to formal authorities, whether that’s the police or formal administrators,” Toma said. “And that’s true for high school students. Teenagers, high school and middle school students, often feel very reluctant to discuss a lot of their issues with adults. They’re much more likely to share their issues with peers. So having peer counseling has shown to be very effective in being able to surface a lot of the issues that students are being reluctant to share with adults, and one of them being bullying.”
These centers promote civic engagement by encouraging students to pursue change within their school, and address issues that they’re seeing.
“The students are supported to speak out and raise that issue with the school administration to be able to ensure that appropriate actions are being taken by school administration,” Toma said. “So those who are doing the harassing recognize that there are consequences. They are given the support to change their behavior, and if not, to be removed from the school environment.”
The Dream Centers have been welcomed by students and teachers, and the centers have been successful.
“We’ve seen that as soon as we get established (on a campus), there is a core of students who are utilizing the services,” Toma said. “The response from the administrators and the students has been really positive. The administrators recognize that there are a number of students who are targeted on campus by other students, and sometimes by teachers and staff. Having a place where those students can go and feel safe has been a real welcome to them.”
Students who have utilized the centers have seen improvements in their academic performance.
“Students who don’t feel safe can’t learn,” Toma said. “That’s what administrators have said. That’s what our partner organizations have said, and the students are telling us how valuable it is to have a place where they can do homework or have access to computers.”
For more information about LA vs Hate Dream Centers, visit www.lavshate.org.