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Foss: We can learn from racist incident

Foss: We can learn from racist incident

'What we can do is learn from this incident'
Foss: We can learn from racist incident
Niskayuna High School
Photographer: Gazette file photo

It was an ugly incident. 

But that doesn't mean something good can't come out of it. 

By now, most readers of The Daily Gazette are likely aware that racist slurs were directed at members of the Schenectady High School girls varsity soccer team last Tuesday by fans at Niskayuna High School. 

Unfortunately, we can't go back in time and prevent the students who behaved so abhorrently from conducting themselves in such a hurtful, bigoted manner. 

What we can do is learn from the incident, and do everything we can do to ensure that nothing like it happens again. 

To that end, both school districts appear to see the incident as a teachable moment -- an opportunity to establish a dialogue between the two districts, which share a border but differ in significant ways. 

Schenectady has a racially mixed student body with a substantial number of African-American students; Niskayuna is a mostly white district. Schenectady has a large number of students living in poverty; Niskayuna's student body, in contrast, is fairly affluent.  

So, yes, I can see some benefits to bringing students from these different worlds together, and giving them the opportunity to talk with and learn from each other. An open forum or assembly on racism might also be helpful. 

But we also need to hold accountable the students -- it sounds like it was a small number of teens -- who yelled racist comments. 

The Niskayuna Central School District is investigating what happened last week, and will hopefully identify those responsible and come up with an appropriate response. 

Worth keeping in mind is that these are teenagers, and while they should be punished, they should also have the opportunity to learn from their mistake. Doing volunteer work, writing letters of apology -- these are the types of actions those involved in this incident might do to make amends.

One approach to dealing with racist incidents in schools, outlined in the educational resource Teaching Tolerance, suggests requiring "offenders to face the destructive nature of what they did and perhaps even help them take steps to repair the damage they have done." 

Make no mistake, racist comments are damaging. 

That's why the outpouring of support for the Schenectady High School girls soccer team was so heartening.  

The team's final opponent of the season, Columbia High School, presented them with flowers and hugs. Members of the Niskayuna community, including the Niskayuna girls soccer coach, Bryce Colby, and some of his players, reached out to the girls to apologize.  

It's too bad these apologies and expressions of support were necessary. 

But they were nice to see, and a reason, perhaps, to feel hopeful about the future. 

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's.     

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