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Allyship Begins in School

Kids putting their hands together

Kids putting their hands together

Yael Kidron

Yael Kidron is the director of the Character Education program at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University. Views are her own.

Bias, discrimination, and sexual harassment in the workplace begin with the values that individuals had internalized long before they reached adulthood. They may have watched friends get away with being rude to others. Or, they may have themselves grew up in an environment that tolerated sexist comments, touting one’s exploits with girls, and exchanging offensive memes on social media.

According to the social learning theory, bigotry is not innate – it is learned. And, it takes multiple, consistent responses from peers and adults to unlearn such habits and to be college and career ready, not only intellectually but also socially and emotionally. Every person who witnesses an act of racism, sexism, or another form of prejudice, has the ethical responsibility to attempt to correct the situation, to the extent of their ability by speaking up, reporting the action, or leveraging another safe option offered by their school.

As opposed to the non-participatory role of a bystander, individuals who take action are often referred to as “upstanders” or “allies.” They not only stop inappropriate actions but also inspire others and start the snowballing effect of moral courage. With enough ethical allies at school, this ethical behavior can catch fire and become a social norm.

Being an ally involves:

  • Having an ethical sensitivity to identify the problem.
  • Demonstrating the moral courage to take a risk and stand up to bullies.
  • Pinpointing and articulating the harmful aspects of the behavior.

School leaders that create a culture of caring and respect take the following actions:

  • Model allyship.
  • Recognize and reward allyship.
  • Organize learning events about allyship for students and school staff.
  • Collect data about students and school employees’ perceptions of allyship culture at the school.

The concept of early prevention means that to counteract stereotype threat and support diversity and inclusion in businesses, students should become allies before they graduate from high school. Practicing the habit of calling out bias and discrimination can improve college and workplace environments.  

Learn more about ethical allies in the workplace in The Ethical Ally by Ann Skeet, senior director of the Leadership Ethics program at the Ethics Center.

Jun 17, 2019