McFarland High School students Hannah Rounds, Valeria Vayserberg and Riley Schappe hope that their efforts in a school club fighting racism and hate will widen the perspectives of their classmates and fellow community members.
“An overarching goal is just to widen student’s perspectives. We arent exposed to a whole lot in McFarland, when it comes to diversity and other experiences,” Rounds said. “Having this event at the high school will open the eyes of some of our students. Life isn’t confined to my small town, McFarland Wisconsin.”
Rounds, Vayserberg and Schappe are three members of the McFarland chapter of We Are Many-United Against Hate, a nonpartisan nonprofit seeking to combat hate, bigotry and racism.
The club is hosting an informational event on Thursday, Jan. 6 from 8:30-1 p.m., held both in-person and livestreamed, on the topic of domestic terrorism.
The event will feature speeches from Gov. Tony Evers, Attorney General Josh Kaul, McFarland superintendent Wayne Anderson and authors Daryl Johnson and Professor Brian Levin.
There will also be a panel of student ambassadors, including Rounds and Vayserberg, speaking on what it’s like to grow up during a time where domestic terrorism has occured, in the age of active shooter drills and hate crimes, the students said.
The event will also feature a panel with four former hate group members – an Al Qaeda recruiter, a former KKK leader, a former white nationalist and a former neo-nazi, to share their experience with hate groups and how they changed.
Rounds, Vayserberg and Schappe hope that students will have their minds opened by hearing from people from a variety of different backgrounds.
“It’s huge to have this experience for our students because our perspecives will be widened by hearing people speak,” Rounds said.
“Bringing it here it shows that we’re here to make a difference,” Vayserberg said. “It’s really big to have us host it. (It) makes a bigger statement, shows our community that we’re trying.”
Anne Nichols, MHS assistant principal and United Against Hate club advisor, said that the founder of the nonprofit, Masood Akhtar felt strongly that a forum on domestic terrorism was important, and that McFarland was honored to host.
The goal, Nichols said, is to raise awareness of the concept of domestic terrorism and hate.
“Our high schoolers are very maleable right now,” trying to “figure out who they are and what they want to believe in…trying out different roles. Sometimes you can get lost on the way,” Nichols said. “Giving them the tools to question is what we’re hoping.”
“We’ve got to prepare our high schoolers, because they are our future leaders,” Nichols said.
McFarland High School was the first to start a high school chapter of the nonprofit in 2019, and has now been joined by students at Deerfield, Baraboo and Dodgeville high schools.
The forum is free and open to the public to attend either in-person or virtually. Community members must register at www.united-against-hate.org/1-6-event/. Masks are required.
Nichols and the student representatives suggested that students and community members prepare themselves for serious discussions. They’re asking for attendees to come in with an open mind, and be willing to accept non-closure.
Schappe described the event as “tough conversations about tough topics that need to be talked about.”
“We offer opportunities for discourse and communication and discussing hard things in a safe environment,” Nichols said. “We wanted to provide (that) opportunity.”
McFarland cultural walk
The McFarland Chapter of We Are Many-United Against Hate also recently championed a cultural walk around the community of McFarland.
After collecting videos from other students and community members about their winter, cultural or holiday traditions, the students created signs with QR codes, and placed them around the village for community members to check out.
The signs will remain up until Jan. 7, and community members can continue to watch the videos, or submit their own.
“Our citizens right here in this community, there’s so much we can learn from them,” Nichols said. “We’re all human beings. We have to learn to get along, respect our differences, and realize that we dont know everybody’s full story.”