School Upstanders: Friendship ‘A Powerful Tool’

Middle Schoolers teamed up with the Connecticut Anti-Defamation League to produce a schoolwide assembly on May 27 aimed at educating the community on Judaism, anti-Semitism, and how we can all work to be “upstanders” against hate.
Diversity in Action organized an hour-long, virtual assembly that featured facts on the culture of Judaism and testimony from two young women who have served as upstanders in their school communities.
Led by Brunswick eighth grader Ilan Amaro, Diversity in Action club members Lucas Juneja, Nick Grippo, Owen IIes, and Sayah Trahanas presented. Emmanuel Saldana, associate director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, moderated.
Boys spoke about the origins of Jewish American Heritage Month, and answered the question What is Judaism? They discussed the Holocaust and World War II, before introducing a trio of speakers.
Julia Schroers, a sophomore at Guilford High School, has been a teen trainer for ADL Connecticut for the past four years. She spoke to the boys about her experience with anti-Semitism when she was as young as 11 — and how, without the support of upstanders and allies, those kinds of experiences can be isolating, frightening, and hurtful to a young person’s development.

“Being able to be a good friend to someone that’s Jewish is a really powerful tool,” Schroers said. 
She also spoke to the boys about helping her town successfully change its mascot from the Guilford Indians to the Guilford Grizzlies.
Soumya Potu is an Indian American and a 2021 graduate of the University of Connecticut. This past year, she served as an ally to UConn Hillel and the Jewish community at UConn. She told boys that she was moved into action after anti-Semitic incidents on campus.
At first, Soumya let those incidents pass without much thought. But after listening to a speaker discuss the personal impact of hate, she felt she had to speak out.
“That’s when it hit me,” she said. “If I was in their position, I would want to know there are other people in this fight with me.”
Speakers also included Marji Lipshez-Shapiro, deputy director of ADL Connecticut.
“I applaud Brunswick students for this great work,” she said. “I believe student leadership is the key to our future. The future is right here, in this program.
“Every person has an opportunity to be an ‘upstander’ or an ‘ally,’” she said. “So many targets of prejudice feel alone.”

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