‘Discussing Hate in America’: WHS’ Agora hosts meeting to facilitate dialogue


Julie Dannevig and Corinne Flaherty

On Thursday Dec. 6, Agora, a WHS forum that acts as a place for students, educators and community members to discuss local and global issues, organized a meeting for WHS students and Westfield community members to discuss the recent rise of hate crimes and give an opportunity for students to express themselves.

Guests Mayor Shelley Brindle, Rabbi Sagal of Westfield’s Temple Emanu-El and Seham Abdala of the New Jersey Islamic Networks Group all participated in this discussion of hate. WHS Principal Dr. Derrick Nelson and Director of Guidance Maureen Mazzarese also shared their opinions.

Students needed a voice to share those feelings, outwardly,” said Social Studies Teacher Ryan Daly when asked about the purpose of the meeting. Both teachers and students were encouraged to attend this event and express their opinions during the open forum discussion.

The meeting began with all participants reading an excerpt, “Who Is Human?,” from the Race and Membership in American History textbook, which left readers pondering the question: “What does equality mean to you?”

The discussion proceeded with a number of different topics, varying from world politics to the curriculum of Westfield Public Schools. Everyone was given the chance to speak freely while following four simple rules that were displayed on the chalkboard: listen respectfully, debate ideas—not individuals, pay attention to fact versus opinion and ask questions.

Part of the discussion revolved around the challenge of teaching students to respect other’s political views and religious backgrounds while remaining unbiased. Both students and teachers expressed the necessity to educate students in hopes of preventing further hate crimes, but there was no clear answer on how to do that.

Dr. Nelson shared his frustration about the recent incidents in the district, emphasizing the point that Westfield public schools are not teaching hate and that in order to prevent further incidents, the same ideas must be reiterated at home.

Mayor Shelley Brindle shared that she is working to plan events that bring the community together. She has hopes that these events will create trust throughout Westfield and limit the occurrences of hate.

I was incredibly impressed with not only the knowledge that the students have, but their wisdom, their sensitivity and their willingness to really make a difference,” said Rabbi Sagal after the discussion.

Seham Abdala shared the same sentiments. “I was very impressed by the students and the way they handled the questions and I think they are quite mature,” she said. “Hatred really is happening and hopefully [something good] will come out of this.”

Although the discussion did not address our own local hate crime incidents, it is still important that we continue to evaluate ourselves and our community.

As Rabbi Sagal judiciouly said, Westfield as a community must ask themselves the question: “Why [have we] permitted hatred to thrive in this country and why [have we] not done nearly enough to stop it?”