"While interacting with members of my own faith, or ethnic, or gender community, or with others, if I hear hateful comments from anyone about members of any other community, I pledge to stand up for the other and speak up to challenge bigotry in any form."
~The Stand Up For The Other Pledge
On January 16, Rutgers Preparatory School hosted Gurbir Grewal, New Jersey’s State Attorney General, as well as other distinguished guests as part of an all-community event focused around the “Stand Up for the Other” pledge. A group of Rutgers Prep faculty members dedicated to harnessing the strengths that reside in the Rutgers Prep community’s diversity worked to design the event, providing the entire Rutgers Prep community with an opportunity to deepen their commitment to challenging bigotry wherever and whenever they encounter it. Throughout the morning, students and faculty heard from speakers and engaged in reflection; the event culminated with a community-wide recitation of the pledge, as well as a ceremonial signing of a banner inscribed with the pledge, which was developed in 2015 by New Jersey Interfaith Advisory Council President Ali Chaudry.
After reciting the Stand Up Pledge, Rutgers Prep Upper School students signed a commemorative banner which includes the pledge.
In opening remarks before both Upper School students and faculty, Attorney General Grewal spoke about his focus on working to “bridge tensions, heal divides, and support the rights of each and every New Jerseyan.”
“Here, in one of the most diverse states in the country, we can take steps to show that we are united in our fight against hate. Here in New Jersey, we can commit to treating any act of hate or bias against a member of one of our communities, as an act against all of us.
Looking out at this audience, I see myself. Five decades ago, my parents took an extraordinary leap of faith to leave everyone and everything they knew to come to this country. They came to America in pursuit of the American dream… the idea that no matter who you are, what you look like, what you believe, how you worship, what you wear, who you love… if you work hard, you can achieve success.
We need each of you to play a role and a part in this work. It can’t end here; this needs to be a beginning. Stand up for the other, speak out for the other, and remind any victim that they are a member of a community. I know firsthand that it always helps to know that there is someone beside you, that whatever you are facing, you are not facing it alone.”
In addition to the New Jersey State Attorney General, students heard from Harinder Singh, founder and Senior Research Fellow at the Sikh Research Institute, Rabbi Eli Garfinkel of Temple Beth El in Somerset, NJ, Reverend Ann Kansfield (Rutgers Prep ‘94) of Greenpoint Church, Brooklyn, NY and NYC Fire Department Chaplain (the first member of the LGBTQIA community appointed to this position), and Alex Kharazi, President of the Franklin Township Interfaith Council.
Rabbi Garfinkel reminded the assembled community, “Even if you don’t belong to a minority, you know and love someone who is. Hatred directed at one of us affects all of us.” Reverend Kansfield, a member of the LGBTQIA community, remarked on how much things had changed for the better since her time as a student at Rutgers Prep, and expressed her gratitude to those who had worked to enact that change. She closed her remarks by saying, “My hope for you is that you embrace the idea of being uncomfortable, so that you, too, can do big, brave things.”
Mr. Kharazi commended Rutgers Prep for providing community members with the tools for growth. “It is so important to practice empathy whenever you are with someone who is different,” he said. “I believe that If you take this pledge and apply it in your daily life, the first person who will benefit from it will be you. You will enjoy the people around you, and they will come to think of you as a great human being.”
And Mr. Singh enjoined the assembled students to look for answers about next steps within themselves. “At heart, everyone wants to be compassionate,” he shared. “When you see someone enacting kindness or empathy, it makes you feel good… you want to be that person! But fears keep us from acting on that impulse. Don’t ask someone else what you can do. Figure out what matters to you. If you find the policy or social norm that you want to change and engage with it, you can make a difference.” Most of the morning’s panelists were able to reprise their comments at a slightly later point in time for the Rutgers Prep Middle School, while the Lower School students were introduced to the pledge by their teachers.
Dr. Circe Dunnell, a member of the Advocates for Inclusion in Diversity (AID) group and one of the event’s principal organizers, commented, “We wanted to call attention to the importance of taking care of community in general, and the Rutgers Preparatory School community in specific.”
Ms. Leichena Bodie-Young, a counselor for Rutgers Prep’s Middle and Upper School students who was also instrumental in planning the event, shared, “It is incredibly hopeful and moving to see our students have the opportunity to be encouraged to take a look within themselves and identify their own positive values and learn how to act upon them.”
Student Council President Nima Majidi added, “The RPS Stand Up For The Other Event was a transcendent experience, and I am very fortunate to have been in attendance. Every speaker spoke wonderfully and reiterated the importance of standing up for our fellow brothers and sisters regardless of faith, gender, race, or sexuality. I only hope that we have more opportunities and panels like this in the future and am eternally grateful to the Advocates for Inclusion in Diversity for organizing this event.”
In follow-up conversations around campus after the assemblies, students overwhelmingly reflected their support of the ideals reflected in the “Stand Up For The Other Pledge.” One definitely got the sense that the goal of coalescing around the ideal of a caring inclusive community had been achieved, and that the willingness to take the pledge was widespread. Rutgers Prep’s community, already known for being tight-knit and supportive, seems like it is on its way to becoming even more so.
Members of AID (Advocates for Inclusion in Diversity) with the speakers from Rutgers Prep's "Stand Up for the Other" Day.