This month we have three big questions for Regional Director of Education Tara Raju as she concludes her career at ADL after nearly two decades on our Regional team.
ADL: Thinking back over your 18-year career at ADL, what are some of the highlights you’ve experienced?
Tara Raju: I have been lucky to have experienced many highlights, unique opportunities and creative challenges during my time at ADL. The first example that comes to mind is when I joined the Regional team in 2005. Echoes & Reflections was being launched and ADL’s entire education staff traveled to Los Angeles to visit the USC Shoah Foundation (one of the partner organizations for Echoes & Reflections, along with ADL and Yad Vashem). Along with experiencing this unique new curriculum resource, our group visited the Universal Studios lot, went behind the scenes at the Shoah Foundation, and learned and played together. I instantly made lifelong friendships on that trip. Because of that summer, I was fortunate to be chosen as the lead staff member for Echoes and Reflections in our region, which meant I had the remarkable opportunity to travel to Israel, spending a week at Yad Vashem with ADL staff and educators from around the country. I also was chosen a few years later, along four other education staff members, to travel with then-ADL National Director Abe Foxman, ADL board members from around the country and 200 Israel Defense Force officers to Israel and Poland. Marching into forests in Poland and Auschwitz with these soldiers was an experience of a lifetime.
In our region, working with law enforcement was a new and unique experience. Delivering anti-bias and communications training to Denver Police Department’s academy and a train-the-trainer program with Colorado Peace Officers Standards and Training provided me with new skills, perspectives and relationships that I still draw from today.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t highlight the launching of our No Place for Hate initiative here in the Mountain States Region. Every facet of ADL came together from various departments across the country in order to launch a program that met our deep need for anti-bias and anti-bullying education. This cooperative effort created community buy-in and continues to grow, improve and have lasting impact on school communities throughout the Region.
ADL: Speaking of No Place for Hate, what are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in the field of anti-bias / anti-bullying education, both at ADL and generally?
TR: I first connected with ADL’s A World of Difference Institute in 1995 as a facilitator, years before I joined the Regional staff. It was the educational philosophy, pedagogy and implementation strategy that resonated with me back then. In almost every workshop, The Institute connects a person’s mind (logic) and heart (feelings). The Institute always creates space for dialogue, consistently reinforcing that you must start with self-reflection and only then can you channel the dialogue into the action of challenging and/or confronting bias. In 1995 and even in 2005, ADL was one of the only organizations that I knew that connected these anti-bias concepts intentionally, through research, to the burgeoning study of bullying and cyberbullying prevention. ADL lent a unique voice to education issues because it connected education to civil rights, extremism and advocacy.
Today, there are many more organizations and initiatives working in this field, each with their unique perspectives and audiences (students, families, caregivers, or educators). Outstanding research is published every day by many experts in the field, with conferences held all over the country. ADL still has that unique voice connecting all parts of our work within education. However, as ADL creates new priorities and strategies, ADL Education has an opportunity to not only reach as many schools, students and educators possible, but to also be a convener of dialogue, discussion, learning and curiosity for students and educators, creating change and impact through shared understanding, as it did when in I joined its ranks way back when.
ADL: Finally, what are some lessons you’ve learned that you’d like to pass along to our readers?
TR: While there are too many to list them all here, one lesson that has remained constant is that this work – which I define as anti-bias education, anti-racism work and social justice work in general – requires steady and lasting curiosity, not only about history and current events, but curiosity about oneself and others. Often, we believe that if we stay current on the evolution of language, read lots of nonfiction, watch all the right movies and keep up with current events, we are “doing the work.” But if we aren’t also engaging in constant reflection about our own interpretations, reactions, responses, emotions and thinking, then we are missing the point about how to discuss hard topics. Engaging and learning about racism, sexism, heterosexism and other ‘isms isn’t just meant for logical discussions, because these are personal experiences. Discomfort comes with the territory. Be curious about the world but be just as curious about your own discomfort because that is typically where we learn the most about ourselves, our behaviors and the world around us. It is great to reach millions, but not in the absence of depth of understanding, awareness and action.
Often I hear people say how hard it is to change hearts and minds, but that is what ADL’s work is about: connecting with each other’s humanity and dignity. Let’s not forget that changing hearts and minds can change behavior, and that will always be connected to changing policy, just as changing policies will always be connected to changing behavior, which can lead to changing hearts and minds.
We thank Tara for the extraordinary contributions she has made to ADL and its enduring mission and wish her the very best on her next journey. We’ll miss you, Tara!