After a teacher and a non-teaching employee wore “Free Palestine” shirts to Evanston Township High School, ETHS plans to hold staff and student “listening spaces” where students and staff can share their experiences and support those “who are directly experiencing hate or intimidation.”

As first reported by Evanston Now, many Jewish students and their families said they did feel both hate and intimidation after seeing a teacher, an authority figure, wearing the shirt to school after Hamas invaders murdered more than 1,200 Israelis.

More than 10,000 Palestinians have been killed during Israel’s attack on Gaza in an effort to defeat the militant group.

ETHS policy prohibits the wearing of any clothing with slogans which could be interpreted as hurtful, and leaves it up to the person seeing the shirt to make that determination, not the person wearing the shirt.

In an email to students and guardians, District 202 Superintendent Marcus Campbell and ETHS Principal Taya Kinzie say, “We have tried to find the answers and address the recent challenges at ETHS related to what is happening in the Middle East, and we have certainly made mistakes.”

The administrators note that the school “has provided reminders about the Board policies and guidelines that set important expectations for staff. And we know we must do more,” because “some of our students and staff still do not feel seen and do not feel safe.”

Campbell and Kinzie add that “there are people in our community who have loved ones and friends who have been killed, displaced, and taken hostage,” and some ETHS students and staff, Jewish, Israeli, Muslim, Palestinian, and those from other Middle Eastern countries “are not OK.”

The administrators say there has been an increase locally in both antisemitism and Islamophobia.

In an effort to help students and employees cope with the ongoing situation overseas and its impact here, ETHS plans to have “listening spaces” for students to “connect with each other and have meaningful conversations about the dehumanizing narratives that have impacted their group.”

One session, on Nov. 27, will be to “support students who have directly experienced Islamophobia, anti-Muslim, and anti-Arab sentiments.”

Another, on Dec. 4, is to “support students who have directly experienced antisemitism or anti-Israeli sentiments.”

There will also be similar sessions for staff, and they may also be offered for parents/guardians.

Both Campbell and Kinzie will be at the meetings, “to listen … but not to facilitate the dialogue.”

The purpose of listening sessions, the administrators say, is to build community for those with a shared experience, help build positive relationships at ETHS, learn about community resources and support those who are experiencing hateful or discriminatory actions.

Listening sessions are not intended to solicit support for a cause, make assumptions about those with opposing views, retraumatize those who have been suffering, or “prioritize the humanity of one group over another.”

Campell and Kinzie also encourage students and families to try to connect with others, “especially across boundaries of differences, and to whittle away at the isolation that fear and hurt and anger and sadness and pain can drive.”

They also hope that the ETHS community, students, staff, and families “can find glimmers of hope amidst the terribleness that exists abroad and near home.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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