Transforming School Climate Strategy:
Building a Culture of Upstanding Allies
This guide offers step-by-step advice on how to foster an Allies in Diversity student club devoted to social justice, equity, diversity, and multiculturalism, as well as creating a safe place for students most at risk of experiencing cruelty or bullying. Students in the program also learn to develop “upstander” skills to intervene in incidents of bullying. The Allies guide addresses gender and sexual diversity and gives adult leaders of the club a roster of activities and discussion topics that appeal to middle school students.
“I want to be an Ally because I want to help benefit the world. Some people don’t seem to realize how easily you can hurt someone and affect his or her life. I want to prevent all of the depression that comes with witnessing insults. Everyone has the right to be different, no matter what. I’m not exactly sure when bullying became a part of the world, but I would think that the human race would want to support each other. We are capable of so much more when we stand together.”
Manhattan Middle School
What is an Allies in Diversity Program?
From a student’s perspective, an Allies in Diversity program feels like a student club and is often referred to as such. Looking through an instructional lens, however, the content and purpose are strategic and aim to build student knowledge about social justice, equity, diversity, and multiculturalism; create pro-social attitudes and beliefs toward all members of the school community; build critical student “upstander” skills that are practiced and put into action; and create a safe space for students most at risk of experiencing cruelty and bullying to build relationships within the club with students who pledge to be their allies. “Ally” refers to the tight bonds that occur between members of the club and also refers to all club members’ role in the larger school community to intervene and defend any student who is being unfairly treated and/or bullied on any given school day. “Ally” then describes both the relationship between students (I am your ally) and action to be taken in defense of other students throughout the school (I will ally with them against others who are treating them badly).
Although an Allies in Diversity Club shares some elements of a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), it is intended to be far more than a safe space, which is the traditional role of GSAs usually found at the high school level. An Allies Club at the middle school level functions as equal parts multiculturalism class, student skill building, character building, and safe space for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and questioning (LGBTQ) and/or gender nonconforming students, and does address gender and sexual diversity (GSD) as a critical part of instructional content. (See Why Must GSD be Addressed?)
This guide provides step-by-step instructions for establishing an Allies Club in your school. The guidelines are drawn in large part from the experiences of six Colorado middle schools as they created and sustained their Allies clubs. Each step provides instructional strategies and activities to use with club members as well as questions to consider when developing and supporting Allies groups. These resources could also be excellent resources for professional development.