Standing up to crimes against international students

By Mengfei Chen, Patterson Press staff writer

School is a place for students to seek knowledge and growth. It plays an important role in spreading civilization and culture. For a school to perform its role, it must be structured and orderly. Students need to feel safe and protected in school so they can concentrate on learning. Yet many high school students all over the nation do not feel safe at all. Every year, crime rates among teenagers continue to grow. International students, who are still adjusting to a new language and culture, are especially vulnerable to crimes like theft and assault, as well as threats and bullying in general.

Nowhere is this more true than here at Patterson High School, one of the most diverse schools in Maryland and home to students from over 40 different countries. It has come to this reporter’s attention that student-on-student crimes and harassment against international students at Patterson have been occurring at an alarming rate. Many students and even some teachers and staff members are afraid to talk about it, but serious incidents are occuring on a regular basis. In a recent survey, a shocking 57% of Patterson students said that bullying is a problem at the school. Now is the time to take a stand to improve our school’s safety and protect all of our students from harm.

These are two true stories from international students in our school. Their names are being withheld to protect their privacy:

(Original artwork by Mengfei Chen, Patterson Press)

“My phone was stolen!” a girl cried. All the girls that were in the bathroom came to her and inquired about what happened. She could not stop crying  and even did not know what was the person who stole her phone looked like. She came to her teacher immediately and told the teacher all the details. Unfortunately, since the thief was gone and she did not know what they looked like, the teacher could not do anything but comfort her.

” Those girls they wanna beat us!!”, another girl exclaimed.  She could not go to cafeteria because she was afraid those girls were waiting for her. Instead of keeping quiet, she decided to tell her teacher immediately. The teacher reported it to the assistant principal in charge of the monitoring the cafeteria.

Unfortunately, incidents like these happen far too frequently and are not always resolved. To address this problem, the Patterson Press sat down with Mr. Benton, Patterson’s Principal, to discuss solutions. Mr. Benton cited measures that had already been put in place to provide support for international students, recalling a special assembly of all English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) students held earlier this school year. While the problems facing international students certainly started long before Mr. Benton became the school’s principal, Mr. Benton assured the Patterson Press that he was commited to tackling the issue and making sure all students are safe and respected. “Teachers should be reporting these things directly to their principal and the Dean of Students, or at the very least, to hall monitors,” Mr. Benton stated. “Those individuals will follow up with school police.”

At the same time, Mr. Benton insists that these problems can only be solved if students stand up for themselves and their fellow students and report crimes and incidents in a timely manner. To assist students with this challenge, Mr. Benton told us several useful tips that may be useful for all Patterson students. Some of these points are summarized below:

<1>Don’t be an onlooker

“If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything”, Mr. Benton told us, quoting Malcolm X. When you see something happen, don’t be an onlooker just because of fear. The only result of this action is to ensure that the perpetrator continues their actions; the next victim may be you. If you were in trouble, you would want other people to help you. So no matter who is being victimized, lend a helping hand and support your fellow students.

<2> Learn how to describe a person

This is a very important lesson. Learn how to describe person’s notable characteristics and looks. For example, instead of just saying a person is African-American, you can say he or she has light, medium or very dark skin. Also if you see a person has a unusual feature (such as bright red hair), you can emphasize that. It will make it easier for the administration or school police to find the person. In short, if you are the victim of or a witness to a crime, pay attention and observe the perpetrator closely, and use correct and detailed words to describe him or her.

<3>Report thefts, attacks and threats to teachers/police/principals immediately.

Without delay, report the crime to people who can help you, such as teachers, school police and our principals. For international students this may be hard because of language barriers. So we advise those students to first ask other students who speak the same language. Also, international students can tell their ESOL teachers and report to the school police with the teachers. (When asked for comment, the school police said that they treat international students the same as anyone else who came to them to report a crime.) Another option is to go to the ESOL office, which has translators for many different languages.

Teachers can also make a difference by actively supporting international students when they have a problem. “When told an international student has been harmed in some way, I speak to the student to find out exactly what happened…”, Mr. Smith, an ESOL teacher at Patterson told the Patterson Press. “Depending on the severity of the issue…minor harassment or robbery, I’ll recommend a number of courses of action.  From, ‘If it happens again, we’ll report it to an AP…,’ to ‘How do you feel about talking to the police?  If you let this go, the person will find another victim and rob again.'” Mr. Smith has even escorted students to the school police to help them make a report. He has also made recommendations to the school administration and the ESOL Department on how to help prevent crimes and harassment from taking place. In addition to better tracking of incidents, “the best thing is ‘clear halls’ and second-best would be omnipresent hall monitors”, Smith asserts.

Mr. Tola, another ESOL teacher, believes that there also needs to be more “cultural dialogue to improve understanding and break down barriers.” He supports the idea of a cross-cultural “buddy” program that would pair international students with American-born students in a mutual exchange of culture and understanding.

Patterson High School is a community made up of both American-born and international students. We are studying together and sharing our cultures, which presents a wonderful environment for learning. If students, teachers, staff and administration can unite as one and take a stand against theft, violence and bullying, together we can build a happier Patterson family.

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