STAR staff members interact with many different community partners ranging from schools to law enforcement agencies to hospitals and more. Frequently, Black staff members and other staff members of color at STAR are called upon to go into majority white spaces to provide STAR services.
Last month, we became aware of a student at a local high school where STAR provides prevention education services who made a racially offensive social media post. The school reportedly took swift action to discipline the student, however this raised internal conversations at STAR about the impact of this action and related experiences of Black staff members at STAR not feeling welcomed or safe, or being disrespected or discriminated against while simply trying to do their jobs.
As we revise our own anti-harassment policies to be more comprehensive and prevention-focused, we are taking this opportunity to examine how we as an agency respond to harassment or discrimination committed by third parties, these external individuals and organizations our staff interact with in their work. We are also examining what expectations we can and should set with current and potential community partners that will better protect our staff from such experiences moving forward.
It is imperative at this time in our community’s and country’s history that each and every institution examine the ways in which it is not living up to its stated values and examine the way its practices contribute to and allow harassing and discriminatory behavior to continue. This is work we are striving to do at STAR and we expect our community partners to do the same. Whether performing their work in a school, hospital or courthouse, we need our staff members to be able to work in spaces where they feel included, safe, and respected. When outside organizations do not share our active commitment to anti-racism and racial justice, it puts our staff at risk, perpetuates trauma, and negatively impacts their health. This is something we can’t tolerate.
Similarly to how women often live in near-constant fear of being sexually assaulted due to widespread tolerance of behaviors along a continuum of sexual violence, Black people often live in fear of being victims of racist aggression or violence due to widespread tolerance of behaviors along a continuum of racist behaviors. This behavior can range from verbal implications of racial inferiority (microaggressions) to verbal slurs/epithets to physical entitlement and violence. All of these behaviors have physical and mental health impacts on those on the receiving end, even when the offensive action is verbal.
Racism, like sexual assault, is perpetuated by individuals and systems who deny its existence and therefore tolerate it, often unknowingly and unintentionally. To heal and seek unity, these issues need to be faced and confronted head-on. We don’t heal by putting band-aids on deep wounds, or by denying the wounds exist altogether. Yet, it is easy to deny wounds when we are not the people directly experiencing them and when we can be implicated in having done some of the wounding. Part of respecting and valuing members of a community is acknowledging and sharing in their pain and using that empathy to drive action and change. Part of respecting and valuing people is holding ourselves accountable for the harm we have caused and changing course to foster true healing.
Racheal Hebert, LCSW-BACS
President & CEO
Rebecca Marchiafava, MPP