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FAQ About Racial Harassment in Education

Can racial harassment occur in education?

Yes. Harassment of students due to race, color, and national origin is a disturbing phenomenon in elementary and secondary education as well as at colleges. This trend is a major concern because of the profound educational, emotional and physical consequences for the targeted students. Examples of racial harassment include racially motivated physical attacks, racial epithets scrawled on school walls, and organized hate activity directed at students.

What is a racially hostile environment?

A racially hostile environment may be created by oral, written, graphic or physical conduct related to an individual's race, color, or national origin that is sufficiently severe, persistent or pervasive so as to interfere with or limit the ability of an individual to participate in or benefit from the educational programs or activities.

What are the responsibilities of schools and colleges when it comes to racial harassment?

Under federal law, and as recipients of federal funds, schools and colleges have a responsibility to prevent racial harassment and discrimination in their institutions. Prohibited discrimination occurs when a recipient of federal funds (a school or college) condones, tolerates or allows a racially hostile environment that it knows about or when recipient's employees treat students differently because of their race.

How does the federal government help eliminate racial harassment against students?

The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) enforces Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on a student's race, color and national origin in schools and colleges receiving federal funds. OCR investigates and resolves complaints alleging that educational institutions that are recipients of federal funds have failed to protect students from harassment based on race, color or national origin. Complaints are often resolved by agreements requiring schools to adopt effective anti-harassment policies and procedures, train staff and students, address the incidents in question, and to take other steps to restore a nondiscriminatory environment.

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