Local Youth Explore Global Issues of Xenophobia and Extremism

Students participating in an activity called Cross the Line

On October 23rd, IWA partnered with Serve 2 Unite and the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for European Studies on a workshop for grades 7-9 on the theme of xenophobia and extremism.  The workshop was designed to bring students together from diverse backgrounds to explore how these complex global issues are currently playing out in Europe and in our local lives and communities.  Approximately 100 middle and high school students participated in the workshop from Kettle Moraine Global, Milwaukee Math and Science Academy, Milwaukee School of Languages, and Westside Academy II.

Through the activities, students discovered the common experiences and emotions they share with one another and with individuals and families around the world.  Break-out sessions examined the role of language in dehumanizing individuals and groups and the challenge in shifting the mindset of individuals who may have been drawn into xenophobic or extremist movements.

Skype presentation to students in an auditorium
Skype presentation to students

Through a media literacy activity exploring the current refugee crisis in Europe and an art project to express solidarity with local immigrant-owned businesses impacted by xenophobia, students also explored the role individuals can play to overcome divisions and understand one another.

As part of the workshop, students had the opportunity to participate in a Skype session with London-based Yasmin Mulbocus, a former member of the radical Islamist group Al Muhajiroun.   For over ten years, Yasmin has been active in interfaith dialogues and initiatives to counter extremism. She described the childhood experiences that led her to join an extremist organization and the ways she has rebuilt her life since breaking ties with the group.

Here are some of the comments students shared in their final written reflections:

  • “We are all equal and no one is alone.”
  • “I learned that people fear but the courage to persevere is more powerful no matter how bad of a place you are in.”
  • “I learned that life can be tough but there might be a gateway to having a better life and achieve things you want to do.”
  • “I think this will make me a better person and it’ll help me understand things better in the world. “
  • “I never thought that people would understand the struggle that happens in the world.  I thought the people really didn’t care about the world.”
  • “I learned about things I never knew about and I also got much much more inspired to spread happiness and positivity.”
  • “Today I learned I can make a difference in this world.”

The workshop is part of IWA’s growing global education programming for local youth.  Stay tuned for a number of exciting youth programs coming up in 2016!!

This workshop was made possible through a Title VI National Resource Center grant from the U.S. Department of Education and through support from Arts @ Large.