A Call to Math Educators: Hollaback!
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
– Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Recently, a colleague of color shared with me that some of their Tweets had been published without permission in a right-wing publication. This act of using someone’s words without permission is an attack on one’s humanity and personal safety. The act causes emotional and mental trauma, on top of a constant fear of personal and professional harm.
I realized that I needed to be able to offer a lot more than empathetic words. I was seeking more ways to act so that the emotional and physical labor required to respond to harassment could be held by as great a community force as possible. Taking anti-racist actions, instead of simply thinking anti-racist thoughts was a place I needed more tools.
Reaching out to my city’s local newspaper, Berkeleyside, I asked if there was someone there who could help me learn what recourse any of us can have in this situation and what our legal rights are. She suggested that I take a course from Hollaback!, an organization whose mission is “to end harassment in all its forms by transforming the culture that perpetuates hate and harassment.” Hollaback! has a bystander training guide and an extensive series of Bystander Training workshops. They also run a website where you can report online harassment and receive support on next steps.
I took their course on bystander intervention to address anti-Asian-American and xenophonic harassment. In the training they ask that we not record or reproduce screenshots as they want to encourage everyone to take a training in person and not simply read about it. Definitely do that.
One striking piece of data was from a 2019 study which found that when harassed, 79% of people surveyed said they wished someone had stepped in to help them when, in reality, only 15% of people actually received help. I wonder how many had friends, like me, who at times had only the hollow response of “I’m so sorry.”
There is a spectrum of types of harassment and by ignoring things we hear that are lower on the spectrum it can often allow greater forms of harassment to go unchecked. For example, in February, UC Berkeley’s Health Center posted an infographic on social media stating that xenophobia in response to Covid-19 was a normal reaction. That reporting has since been retracted, but is an example of how harassment can become normalized.
The focus of the course was on the 5Ds of Bystander Intervention:
- Distract: De-escalate by drawing attention away from the situation, start a conversation with the person being harassed, ask directions, drop something.
- Delegate: Consider your power in that space and if necessary, ask someone nearby to help out.
- Document: Take screenshots as often online harassment is removed before it can be recorded; film by pretending you are checking your email. Give the documentation to the person who was harassed so they have the choice of what to do with it. Never post video without permission from the person who was harassed as they may not want to relive the experience. Always first offer to help the person being harassed before you document it.
- Delay: Check in with the person who experienced the harassment and see if they are ok. Ask: Can I sit with you? Can I accompany you somewhere? What do you need?
- Direct: Insert yourself directly into the situation. Name the behavior, name what you observe and ask a question.
The key is not having the PERFECT response but simply having A response. This really resonates with me. In different situations depending on how well I know the person being harassed (if at all), where it takes place, and whether or not it’s online would cause me to react differently. But having so many possible ways to intervene, some direct and some indirect, means that so many more of us can hold ourselves accountable for ALWAYS responding.
The bystander training offerings through Hollaback! are extensive. You can read about them all here. Have you witnessed or had a friend or colleague tell you they were harassed, in person or online, and not known what to do? Online harassment particularly towards members of our Twitter math community is happening all around us. Can we commit, as an online community of math educators, to taking action?
As a community of math educators, let’s hold ourselves accountable to always responding because saying “I’m sorry” and offering to listen when we know someone who has been harassed is kind, but not anti-racist. If, like me, you are white, we are the ones who must ensure we are constantly ready to act because we don’t necessarily deal with the microaggressions and extreme trauma that so many of our colleagues of color have repeatedly faced. Having a variety of ways to intervene ensures that the emotional toll and physical time required to respond to these incidents is spread wider amongst us. Through consistent, collective action we gain power, as a community, to address and prevent harassment in all of its awful forms.
by Allison Krasnow @allison_krasnow