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Starting the Conversation: Creating Inclusive Learning Environments Through Exploration of Identity

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The Anti-Defamation League’s A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Institute works with schools and communities around the country to build safe, inclusive and respectful learning environments for students of all ages. ADL developed its education program on the notion that in order to develop academic knowledge and skills, students need to be part of engaging, safe, respectful environments. We know that schools are socializing institutions as well as academic ones, and that by challenging students to discuss issues of bias, discrimination and inequity in their schools, these conversations can create waves of change in the larger community.

So how can schools open conversations around these issues? What is the key to creating an environment of respect and inclusion?  The A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Institute approaches these topics with the understanding that students need a safe, comfortable space to tackle them. We allow students to establish their own set of ground rules that will guide discussion and establish an environment of respect, allowing them to understand the importance of empathy, honesty and cooperation when talking about bias and bias-based bullying.

Exploration of identity is a crucial tool in fostering this dialogue. By asking students to examine their own social group memberships as well as the cultural influences that have shaped their identities, we can begin to open up a conversation about prejudice and discrimination. We ask students to share moments where their identity has been a point of pride and moments where their identity has been disrespected or a source of pain. Sharing these experiences allows students to see the wide range of experiences of peers from diverse backgrounds, and creates empathy and motivates them to take a stand against bias and bullying. With identity as a foundation, additional activities allow students to look inward and assess their own bias and prejudices.

One tool the Institute utilizes is a framework called “The Pyramid of Hate” which demonstrates the way that biased attitudes can escalate when they are not challenged. In those cases, beliefs and attitudes can turn into actions in the form of name-calling, social exclusion, bullying and hate-motivated violence. This framework allows the Institute to help students understand how bias impacts everyone, recognize personal and institutional examples of discrimination and inspire students to address bias when they see it and effect change in their schools and beyond. Ultimately, the A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Institute believes that by actively working with students to foster conversation about identity, bias and bullying, we can empower students to build safe, inclusive learning environments.