2.27.15 Issue

by Susan Wallis, Education Project Associate, ADL

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a 102 year-old Civil Rights organization working to combat hate and bigotry, has embarked on a partnership with the University of Nebraska – Omaha (UNO) and Northwest Magnet High School (NWHS). This collaboration has created a venue for area high school students to discuss issues impacting their schools and communities, learning lessons that are more difficult to teach in a classroom setting.

The UNO Service Learning Academy supports partnerships between nonprofit community organizations, UNO classes, and K-12 faculty to create projects that serve the community while also creating valuable learning experiences for students, allowing teaching to go beyond the classroom. Last summer, the Service Learning Academy approached the ADL about a possible collaboration with UNO political science students and the NWHS Student Council.

Dr. Patrick McNamara, visiting professor of political science at UNO, has a passion for dialogue and conflict resolution and wanted to create a hands-on learning experience for his students. His idea was to promote the ADL’s mission of inclusion and respect by allowing his students to learn to facilitate meaningful conversations with their peers about issues facing youth throughout Omaha.

Mr. John Nguyen, special education teacher at NWHS and student council sponsor, shares this passion for discourse and continually aims to move teaching beyond the school walls. Northwest is a magnet high school focused on law, government, and international diplomacy. True to this focus, Mr. Nguyen acknowledged that “working with the ADL and Dr. McNamara’s students gave my class the opportunity to make positive changes in our community.”

Over the last two semesters, the ADL worked with UNO and NWHS students, teaching them the skills needed to facilitate conversations around race and disparity.  This project started with ADL staff providing general anti-bias training for both UNO and NWHS students, which allowed them to dissect the language of bias, including understanding the dangers of stereotypes and discrimination. The content of these anti-bias workshops centered on the students sharing their personal experiences with prejudice and encouraged listening to each other with the intent of being changed by what they heard.

At the end of the semester, over 100 students from area high schools attended the culminating student-led dialogue event—at which participating UNO and NWHS students led a peer-to-peer program. These student leaders engaged other students in powerful conversations about issues faced in schools and communities throughout the Metro. As the events surrounding the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, unfolded last semester, much of the conversation at this final event focused on the experiences of youth of color throughout Omaha and across the country. Students discussed what communities need to do to create environments that are safe, honor individuality and promote respectful interactions.

UNO student Samantha Brown shared that “this class and this experience have shaped and changed me in a new way, and I am so moved after working with each individual unique person involved in this project. I am so delighted I was a part of such a neat program and it has inspired me to keep working towards resolving and discussing these problems in the future.”

The partnership continues this semester. ADL, NWHS and UNO will host another student-led dialogue event in April 2015. All three partners hope these dialogues will foster a deeper appreciation of respect in all communities.