Alora Rude, 14, from Horace, N.D., and Becca Smith, 13, from West Fargo are two very impressive students, with a passion for tolerance and equality. They have both heard mean comments directed at their friends, and it really bothers them.

“It’s very personal to me, “ Becca said. “A lot of my friends have been discriminated against and mistreated. I have seen it.”

“I just feel that everyone should be treated the same,“ Alora said. “If you have a different religion, race or sexual orientation it shouldn’t make any difference.”

Becca and Alora just finished eighth grade at Heritage Middle School in Horace. As part of a school project called “Be the Change,” they focused on how fellow students are treated. So, they sent out surveys to all the high schools and middle schools in the West Fargo School District. Dozens of students responded. The comments were stunning, alarming and painful to read. Every student said they had either been victims of hatred or witnessed it.

Some students said they were badly treated because of their religion or lack of religion. One student said, “Me and my family were going on a walk and people flicked us off because of my mom’s hair covering, aka hijab.”

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Another student wrote, “I don’t believe in God. I’d be told I’d go to Hell and get threatened.”

Some students said they have been harassed because of their sexual orientation. One student said, “I was discriminated against because I like girls and I am a girl. I’ve been made fun of because I’m supposed to be straight and like men.”

Another student said, “People started calling me homophobic names and called me an outcast.”

Some students have felt the sting of racism. One of them wrote, “I was called ugly because I wasn’t white or looked white…I’ve been told I look like a hot dog, black crumbs, illegal…I get stared at in stores and people tightly grab their bags whenever I come by them or make the tsk sound.”

Even disabled students get picked on. One student wrote, “I’ve seen, like, 18 students get made fun of for a disability.”

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“I was shocked with the survey results,” Alora said. “I didn’t realize that so many kids my age are called slurs because of something they believe in or how they look.”

“I’m just disgusted,” Becca said. “I don’t understand why so many people have to be mean and hateful.”

What Becca and Alora found should serve as a wake-up call. They should be commended for their efforts. What they found in the West Fargo district likely takes place in other area school districts.

People aren’t born with hatred and bigotry. They pick it up from a variety of sources, such as their peers, family members and social media. We must do better.

“Always be polite, “ Alora said. “There’s no reason to be rude and cruel.”

“Treat others like you would like to be treated,” Becca said.

Shaw is a former WDAY TV reporter and former KVRR TV news director. Email jimshawtv@gmail.com

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.