Teachers & Mentors2021-10-16T21:05:05+00:00

What To Do > Teachers & Mentors


Responding to White Nationalist Engagement at School

These pages provide information and basic guidance to those who encounter young people in precollege schools and similar settings, such as after-school programs. For those who work in a school setting, the most basic information about how to respond to signs of white nationalist engagement should be the specific protocols your school has adopted.

Recognizing Signs of Engagement

White nationalist symbols and memes may appear as anonymous graffiti as well as on clothes students wear to school. Less commonly in high schools, they may appear on jewelry or tattoos. Student speech in class, in hallways, or in the cafeteria may echo white nationalist phrasing, slogans, or talking points. Being familiar with the visual and verbal signs of white nationalist engagement discussed in the Signs To Know section of this site will help teachers and mentors to observe problems that might otherwise escape notice. Many of these memes are listed in the ADL database of hate symbols (use the page filters to make the database manageable).


School policies may vary; teachers and other school staff members need to apply their best judgment to individual cases with unique features. But one principle can be applied uniformly: no incident should be ignored. Kids who see an incident involving white nationalism should also see that it’s dealt with.

Clear Policies Can Help

When responses to white nationalist incidents on school grounds or in classrooms are needed, everyone is better served if a school has developed and circulated clear policies and procedures to guide responses to incidents of white nationalist expression.

Clear policies and protocols can guide teachers on responding to problematic incidents. Beyond policies, optimal outcomes will more often occur if teachers individually think through problems they might encounter and how they plan to respond to them if the occasion arises.

Concerning Behaviors


Anonymous Acts

Responding to images, objects, or flyers that appear on school grounds.

Sources & Discussion2021-10-08T17:40:36+00:00

Our Teachers portal (like our Students portal) relies heavily on a guide produced by the Western States Center (WSC), Confronting White Nationalism in Schools: A Toolkit. The Toolkit walks through a variety of scenarios, indicating the way teachers, students, parents, and school administrators can respond productively. The scope of our work here is more narrowly focused on the teachers’ role.

Within that focus, we have elaborated on the content of white nationalist positions. In particular, we have tried to play out in some detail approaches a teacher might deploy in discussion with an at-risk student. These points are informed by discussions in Kurt Braddock’s Weaponized Words as well as by more general principles, guided by Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind. In addition, we have extended the measured tone of response stressed in Building Resilience & Confronting Risk in the Covid-19 Era: A Parents & Caregivers Guide to Online Radicalization, developed by Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab (PERIL) and Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). The PERIL-SPLC guide is also central to our discussions in the “What To Do” section for parents and family. Teachers who are considering how to respond to white nationalist incidents at school may be interested in consulting those pages, especially the section on “early engagement.”

We have drawn also on several other guides specifically dealing with school settings: Speak Up at School: How to Respond to Everyday Prejudice, Bias and Stereotypes, created by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Teaching Tolerance” project (now renamed, “Learning for Justice”), and School Response to Bullying, Intolerance, and Hate, a publication of the “Not In Our Schools” project of Not In Our Town. On the matter of student clothing, we have particularly benefited from relevant sections of Cynthia Miller-Idriss’s, Hate in the Homeland (chapter 3).

Videos listed in the Sources & Resources page may be useful to teachers or, in some cases, be appropriate for individual students or as classroom materials, in whole or in part.

In addition, teachers may find it helpful to consider the detailed description of a complex classroom situation at the community college level discussed in, Sarah Rider’s Tolerating Intolerance.

Throughout we have stressed that the policies and procedures of individual schools must take priority for the teachers who work in them. We offer this page as an opportunity for teachers to reflect more generally on ways of addressing the problem of white nationalism in schools. The WSC guide noted above has specific recommendations for school policies and best practices (pp. 32-35). Some examples appear in the box to the right.

Part of preparation for responding to white nationalism in schools is learning about the basic beliefs of the movement. On this site, What White Nationalists Believe and other pages that flow from it have been prepared with the needs of teachers in mind. Additional resources are discussed in the Sources & Discussion sections of those pages.

Some policy & best practices recommendations from the Western States Center Toolkit

  • Foster and support strong student organizations.
  • Maintain strong ties to a wide range of community organizations: libraries, community centers, faith-based groups, and service organizations can play vital roles in reporting and responding.
  • Take student claims of harassment seriously.
  • Make training available to help all staff identify students who may be vulnerable to recruitment or already exploring white nationalist ideology.
  • Implement a confidential or anonymous online reporting system through which students can share safety concerns.

For further suggestions, see the WSC Toolkit, pp. 32-35.

Updated, October 2021

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