ARTICLE

#USvsHate: Build Community, Challenge Injustice, Create a Movement

In this Q&A, University of California, San Diego Professor of Education Mica Pollock describes the story behind #USvsHate—the initiative that challenges students to speak out against bigotry by creating original anti-hate messaging.

Last year, Mica Pollock and her team at the Center for Research on Educational Equity, Assessment and Teaching Excellence (CREATE) teamed up with Teaching Tolerance to turn #USvsHate into a nationwide anti-bias initiative. To participate, educators implement lessons on injustice from the program’s curated lesson bank. Then, they ask students to take action by making artwork promoting inclusivity and posting it around their school communities. Finally, they can submit their work in the #USvsHate challenge. TT School-Based Programming and Grants Manager Jey Ehrenhalt spoke with Pollock about the program’s beginnings and what she hopes participating students will gain from the experience.

Want to learn how to bring #USvsHate to your classroom? Join the challenge!

How can educators utilize #USvsHate as a resource in their classrooms?

Educators can choose from a range of anti-bias lessons that are designed to help create inclusive school communities and also to combat specific forms of hate, bias and injustice. Educators can also build on their own curriculum. The idea is to invite young people to make public messages against hate at the end of any curricular effort, then circulate those messages around their school. 

We have teachers who’ve chosen single lessons from the website and invited students to make anti-hate messages after a single lesson. We’ve had teachers who have made the lessons into entire units, and hosted an anti-hate messaging contest at the end of the unit. We have educators participating in ways that work for their own curriculum and roles at school. 

How did the idea for #USvsHate come about? 

We launched the project following the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, after seeing such an explicit form of hate get so much national attention. We were seeing spikes in bias and harassment across the country in school communities, as well as violent hate crimes spiking nationally. I wanted to provide educators with resources they could immediately use. I also wanted to support young people.  From the beginning, it was an effort to support educators and young people right now to speak up publicly against hate.

How did you turn this idea into a reality?

I assembled a diverse group of principals, educators, teachers, doctoral students and staff from our organization to brainstorm the design for #USvsHate. I was in contact with the leaders of about 20 educator support organizations and asked them to offer their top lessons that could help foster inclusive school environments. I and a group of teachers started curating them and organizing them into a collection. … We invited students to create public anti-hate messages for their school communities. 

We started piloting the process in three different districts in San Diego. We wanted to have a contest where people would submit some of their favorite messages after sharing them first around their school community. We wanted to create posters and stickers from the images and send them right back to all of the educators who had participated.

Over the next year, the word got out to lots of educators in this community. By June 2019, 53 teachers and over 3,000 students in 12 San Diego districts all participated in the initiative. Then Teaching Tolerance decided to take on the project nationally, which was super exciting.

How can teachers fit #USvsHate into an existing anti-bias curriculum?

#USvsHate supports educators already doing anti-bias curriculum or teaching the Social Justice Standards, and adds the component of student voice. We see teachers get really excited when youth are motivated by the opportunity to speak publicly—to speak their truth. It’s a very motivating final product. This project is also an on-ramp for people who have wanted to tackle these issues but haven’t felt like they were part of a community tackling them collectively. It’s for the gym teacher who didn’t think her work could go in this direction or the advisory teacher who was looking for a way to bring this subject matter into advisory. We’re seeing this as a movement of people entering this kind of work from all different directions.

What do you hope the students will get out of this experience?

Students are saying it’s a responsibility of school to allow them to dialogue about current events. Not only are they watching a nation where many communities are being denigrated; they’re also hearing a lot of devaluing language and they’re witnessing a lot of such behavior in their school communities. [They’re wanting] educators to take on the responsibility with them to challenge that. 

And so we hope that young people are engaging in dialogue about the pressing issues of our time. We hope young people realize that they can speak out and speak their mind on the pressing issues. We hope they can participate in communities where all people are equally valuable, rather than feeling like they’re the victims of others’ behavior.

How has the process transformed you personally? 

This is the first time I have helped create a mechanism at this scale that amplifies the voices of young people. It has been incredibly rewarding to hear the voices of a giant community of young people, students who are extremely passionate about how other human beings should be treated. To know and to have seen hundreds—soon to be thousands—of these young voices has made me realize how much power there is in the next generation.

In 2019, after the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, I remember reviewing all of the #USvsHate submissions. I started to cry while scrolling through the entries because hundreds of young voices were refusing the kind of bigotry, misinformation and bias that fueled that tragedy. It made me feel like the world was in good hands as long as we engage young people in learning to dialogue about these issues early—as long as we let them speak their minds.

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