Theoretical Orientation of #USvsHate

By Mica Pollock & Mariko Cavey

Background and Social Context

#USvsHate (“us versus hate”) was created to help students and educators counter a new, “emboldened” spike in incidents of hate and harassment on the basis of group membership (race/ethnicity/national origin, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and more). Such incidents have always plagued United States schools and communities, but have soared nationwide since the 2016 election, as have “hate crimes” (Bacerra, 2016; Human Rights Campaign, 2017; Rogers et al., 2017, 2019; Southern Poverty Law Center, 2019). In 2017, Rogers et al. found that schools had become increasingly “hostile environments for racial and religious minorities and other vulnerable groups.” In a 2019 study (Rogers et al.), principals described “a very divisive climate since 2016” leading to a “heightened sense of fear and suspicion of others” and “a noticeable increase in incivility overall and outright hostility toward minority groups.” 

Call to Action in Education

As a leading organization “concerned with improving the educational process,” the American Educational Research Association (AERA) calls upon scholars to “take responsibility” to acknowledge how “racism, xenophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, homophobia, and other manifestations of hate continually poison” the very places where scholarship is “produced, disseminated, and implemented” (Harper et al., 2020). Accordingly, AERA holds the academic community accountable to “individually and collectively demonstrate greater care” to change an array of systems in education and society that “harm people and sustain inequities” (Harper et al., 2020).

#USvsHate aims to provide one pathway towards “taking responsibility” for fostering inclusive learning environments, particularly in an era of unleashed bigotry, in a historic moment for advancing civil and human rights. #USvsHate also seeks to deepen students’ opportunities to analyze and publicly communicate about deeper dynamics of bias and injustice in U.S. society, and to promote proactive work as “upstanders” who insist on treating all as equally valuable.

Defining “Hate” and “Anti-Hate”

Purposefully, #USvsHate extends typical K12 dialogue about “bullying” and “kindness” (Cohen & Freiberg, 2013) to explicitly address group-based “hate, bias and inequality” as well (Turner, 2019). The “US” frame of #USvsHate attempts to glue together fractured school communities and to refuse cruelty to any subgroup, while the “vs” asks students to refuse “hate” themselves as “upstanders,” a standing recommendation of school climate literature (Cohen & Freiberg, 2013; Cohn-Vargas 2015). Building on scholarship on antiracism (Pollock, 2008, 2017), we treat the recent “hate spike” as the newest version of an old problem; the project’s definition of “hate” conveys harm at a structural level, not only individual; harm done unintentionally, not only intentionally; and routine hateful actions, not only “hate incidents.” In a collaborative process workshopping a shared definition with participating educators, students, and leaders of educator organizations, we defined “hate” as “any time people denigrate, disrespect or harm an individual or group as if their identity makes them an inferior or less valuable type of person.”  

In inviting “anti-hate messages” for schools and the public, #USvsHate’s theory of action combines work on antiracist communication (Pollock, 2017) and “counterspeech” in media with work on “framing” in social movements (Snow et al., 2019) and from cognitive and political science (Lakoff, 2004; Nyhan & Reifler, 2012). Such scholarship proposes that communications shape consciousness and action, and that shaping and actively sharing public messages can be key to mobilizing audiences to address social problems. Further, we hope students will model pro-inclusion behavior (Cohen & Freiberg, 2013) that a broader “audience” might imitate. We also build on scholarship insisting on proactive antiracism rather than passive, supposedly “non racist” behavior, and extend that philosophy to all forms of bias and inequality (Pollock, 2008; Kendi, 2016; Tatum, 2017).

The Value of Inclusion Efforts

Inclusion efforts matter for fostering “sense of belonging” at school—particularly for underrepresented students—and “belonging” is correlated with academic motivation, engagement, and success (Strayhorn, 2012). Furthermore, all students benefit from active engagement in creating inclusive environments. As an inclusion initiative, #USvsHate also aligns with “social justice education” (Chapman & Hobbel, 2010), “multicultural education” (Nieto, 1999), and “culturally responsive pedagogy” (Ladson-Billings, 1995), which deem it essential to include all students’ diverse lives when analyzing exclusion experiences. #USvsHate also aligns with “antiracist” education priorities (Pollock, 2008) and with civil rights laws that for decades have required educators to address harassment and eliminate hostile environments (Pollock, 2017). Further, asserting the equal humanity of all students might be deemed unarguably ethical (Levinson & Fay, 2019), while discussing factual events is unarguably educational (Hess & McAvoy, 2014). We encourage participation in #USvsHate as an onramp to educators’ and students’ ongoing work against all forms of bias and injustice within the university and beyond.


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