‘Education can help them develop compassion’
Questions for Stacy Schiller
Though nothing in her background pointed in this direction, step by logical step, Stacy Schiller’s path has led to her current position, serving as director of the Holocaust Resource Center and the Diversity Council at Kean University.
Schiller took over the role last August, working with the center, a joint venture of the university and the private nonprofit Holocaust Resource Foundation, and the council — which organizes educational programs to combat prejudice and intolerance. Her job also involves close coordination with the university’s Jewish Studies Program, its Human Rights Institute, and the master’s degree in Holocaust and genocide studies.
That has meant involvement in a busy schedule of seminars, talks, movies, and other events. For Schiller, who was a public school teacher for 13 years and a longtime religious school teacher at Temple Beth Shalom in Manalapan, the college dynamics might be new, but the subject matter is deeply familiar.
She grew up in Brick, in Ocean County, and now lives in Monmouth County. Her grandparents were all born in the United States, so though there were distant relatives who were probably victims of the Holocaust, there were no losses in the close family.
Jewish Studies Program director Dr. Dennis Klein said, “Stacy Schiller is bringing to the Holocaust Resource Center and to the university a wonderful spirit of enthusiasm for building productive relationships with the community and with our many programs that work in tandem with the center.”
Schiller answered questions from NJJN via an e-mail interview.
NJJN: How did you come to an interest in diversity and in the Holocaust?
Schiller: I became interested in diversity after taking a course at the University of Virginia on the history of the Civil Rights movement with Julian Bond. I continued learning about black history and became passionate about learning about LGBT issues through a friendship with a teaching colleague who is gay.
I recognized that I had power to fight against the prejudice and discrimination that she experienced. I became even more passionate about diversity and social justice when I took the Kean University course Teaching Prejudice Reduction with Gerry Melnick in spring 2007, and that led me to the master’s in social justice education program at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.
In 2005, I participated in the NJ Commission on Holocaust Education’s Summer Seminar to Europe. We visited six death camps and numerous other Jewish sites in four countries. I became passionate about Holocaust education and also about the genocide in Darfur. I began educating myself in the form of workshops both about Darfur as well as the Holocaust, and that led me to Kean’s Diversity Council courses Teaching the Holocaust and Teaching Prejudice Reduction.
Once I was informed, I began educating my students at Marlboro Middle School and started the Help Darfur Now club chapter…. My students did projects both in class and as part of the club to raise awareness and funds to help those affected by the genocide.
NJJN: What do you see as the role/value of Holocaust education?
Schiller: Holocaust education offers many opportunities for students to reflect on their own behavior and beliefs [and] can help them develop compassion and empathy for other human beings by sharing stories of individuals, their choices, and experiences. It raises awareness of anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination today by placing those issues in the larger historical context and helping students develop a critical eye to identify discrimination in their world.
There are many opportunities for students to explore alternatives to being bystanders through Holocaust education by studying those who stood up for themselves and others. In these ways, students can develop skills to combat hate today and be “upstanders” globally and in their own communities.
NJJN: Did you know about the Holocaust Resource Center, and have you seen other centers of this kind?
Schiller: I knew about the HRC because of taking the courses and my work with…the Diversity Council. I had participated in other workshops at the Julius and Dorothy Koppelman Holocaust/Genocide Center at Rider University as well as programs at Brookdale Community College’s Holocaust Education Center when I was a middle school teacher, so I was always aware that New Jersey had numerous centers throughout the state, mostly connected to universities.
I believe that the HRC at Kean is the only center that offers semester-long tuition-free courses for educators to assist them in teaching the Holocaust and prejudice reduction. We have worked with over 2,300 educators to date to help them develop teaching units on the Holocaust that are effective and age appropriate for their students.