Aspen High, Anti-Defamation League in talks about program emphasizing tolerance, respect | AspenTimes.com

Aspen High, Anti-Defamation League in talks about program emphasizing tolerance, respect

The Anti-Defamation League is in discussions with Aspen High School about setting up a program in the wake of a handful of anti-Semitic flare-ups last school year.

Incidents included a student who drew a swastika on a classroom whiteboard and the purported bullying of a Jewish student at the high school, which prompted a parent to contact the ADL in Denver about establishing a presence in the Aspen School District.

"It hasn't been a rampant issue, but it's something we want to address," said Tharyn Mulberry, principal of Aspen High School.

The ADL's "No Place For Hate" program is in place at 40 Colorado schools for the 2017-18 school year, according to its website. The bulk of the schools are in Boulder, Denver and the Front Range; the closest one to Aspen is at Eagle Valley Middle School.

The program's mission is to educate students and staff about diversity while promoting tolerance and respect.

Mulberry said students will have a say in whether the No Place For Hate or other ADL-sponsored programs, such as its Words to Action offering, come to the school.

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"I want it to be a student-driven initiative," he said.

The white supremacist and neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, earlier this month elevates the need for the program, noted Sue Parker Gerson, the ADL's associate regional director in Denver.

"I think what has happened in Charlottesville shows how all the more important this work is," she said.

Gerson and Rabbi Emily Segal of the Aspen Jewish Congregation agreed that people are taught to hate, not born with it. That's where the ADL's program would attempt to make an impact at Aspen High, they said.

"I really believe hate and intolerance are taught," Gerson said. "And we have the opportunity to bring the ADL into the school and bring the community of Aspen together."

Segal said last year's episodes revealed more ignorance than actual hate among the students who committed the acts.

"From what I understand, most of the incidents were initiated by kids who didn't fully understand the implications of the words and symbols they were using," she said.

Segal, who attended the University of Virginia in Charlottesville during her undergraduate studies, noted at last week's shabbat service that the town was an unlikely setting for the violent outburst of racism and protests.

"I think most of the time we think these are one-off people in their basements going online," she said in an interview separate from the service. "But then we see in the flesh the horrible consequences that took Heather Heyer's life in Charlottesville. Words have power, and that's what the ADL could bring to light."

Founded in 1913, the ADL is headquartered in New York and its mission statement is to combat "anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry (in the United States) and abroad, combat international terrorism, probe the roots of hatred, advocate before the United States Congress, come to the aid of victims of bigotry, develop educational programs, and serve as a public resource for government, media, law enforcement, and the public, all towards the goal of countering and reducing hatred."

The ADL program could be introduced at Aspen High as earlier as the fall semester, Mulberry said, adding that he welcomes any resources that address bigotry with the buy-in of the students.

For now, the talks will continue, Gerson said.

"We've really just started the conversation in the community to determine what's the best fit for Aspen," Gerson said. "We're exploring a number of different options."

rcarroll@aspentimes.com

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