boarding school
Choosing the right boarding school can help ensure a smooth learning experience. Source: Fred Dufour/AFP

What comes to mind when you think about boarding school

A diverse community. A robust curriculum. Pastoral care and passionate educators.

So it can be surprising to read about bullying and discrimination at these institutions. One study states that almost everyone who has attended a boarding school in Zimbabwe has a story to tell about bullying

It takes various forms, including name-calling, kicking, intimidation, confinement, or being asked to do older pupils’ homework. 

Worse, bullying can alter a child’s sense of reality. Some schools or parents see it as “character building“. The children took them from that and made mental adjustments. 

For Black kids and parents, however, the situation is even more pressing. Let’s dive into some examples and statistics:  

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While bullying is common at boarding schools, Black children have it tougher than others. Source: Thomas Samson/AFP

Being a Black student at boarding schools

Being a minority in any country is tough. 

For Black kids in British boarding schools, the feeling of being “the other” is common, especially when they are on the receiving end of racism, “banter” or bullying.

“You can’t say anything because you are massively outnumbered,” says a former Kent College Canterbury student in an interview with FLO London.

“You either have to lose your identity to fit in or you get looked at as that guy who is anti-social because he isn’t comfortable with that sense of humour.”

Another student explained that since the bullying culture in boarding school “was so normalised, you didn’t feel comfortable [enough] to challenge it.” 

Research also shows Black children might be bullied at rates twice as high as their white peers. 

Forty percent of Black parents reported that their children experienced bullying and the majority are concerned about bullying, racism, and quality of education.

They are worried about sending their kids back to school when the COVID-19 pandemic ends, according to a survey of 500 parents. 

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You can’t prevent bullying or racist behaviours, but you can pick the right boarding school that to reduce the chances of these incidents. Source: Tasia Wells/Getty Images North America/Getty Images/AFP

Preventing bullying and racism: 4 things to remember when choosing a boarding school

1. Research the school

The school’s website should be one of your top sources of information as it’s the most updated.

Look out for the following info, as they can give you a good idea of the environment that your child will be in: 

  • The number of international students at school (including the number of countries and which countries these students are from) 
  • The student-to-staff ratio: a lower ratio means that the teaching staff can provide more attention to your child 
  • Size of the dorms 
  • The number of boarding staff and if there is support to help your child ease into boarding school

Another source to get quality info from are parents of students or graduates. They can offer unfiltered views and true accounts of their child’s experience.

2. Pay attention to any policy regarding racism or bullying

Usually, boarding schools will have a policy or rule to detect behaviours related to bullying or racism.

They will also include procedures to report these incidents and how the school will deal with them.

Ask a representative from the school for the policy and keep a copy of it for your reference.

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Since there are many nuances to the English language, local boarding students might view your child differently, which can cause racist behaviours or bullying. Source: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images North America/Getty Images/AFP

3. Check if the school provides English language support

A person’s skin colour can make them more likely to experience bullying, according to research by the Department of Education.

You can call this phenomenon “racist bullying.” It also applies to those who are not fluent in English. 

With adequate support to grasp the nuances of the language, your child will have an easier time communicating with people from a different race. 

4. Build relationships with the school staff and other parents

Being a sense of trust and belief with the school staff and other parents can go a long way.

Teachers and staff will have more context when interacting with your child, allowing them to sense if your child is dealing with racist behaviour or bullying.

When you know the parents of your children’s classmates, it’s easy to nurture goodwill and mutual support.

Plus, you have an extra pair of ears and hands to figure out how your child is doing at school.