student Spotlight

March Student Spotlight with Jason Sirios Executive MPA ‘19

march19studentspotlight

In this month’s student spotlight, National Director of Education Programs at the Anti-Defamation League, Jason Sirios tells us what he’s learned about hate, how the Marxe Executive MPA program has contributed to his career, and more.

Tell us about your role as National Director of Education Programs at the Anti-Defamation League. What is an example of one of your biggest challenges and greatest successes?
As the National Director of Education Programs at ADL, I have the opportunity to work with a team of experts dedicated to creating schools and communities where all people can thrive regardless of who they are or where they are from. One of the biggest challenges of doing what I do is that there is no easy fix. My job is not one where if I just work hard enough, I will be able to eradicate bias and hate on my own. My work requires the collaboration of others and it is in those collaborations that I have found the most success. I once was leading a session for NYC educators focused on creating safe classrooms for LGBTQ identified students. One teacher was resistant to the topic and at one point asked if it was homophobic if he didn't want to be touched by a gay person. We had a lot of conversations over the next two days, but by the end of the second day, this teacher expressed how much the training has changed his life and how sorry he was for all of the LGBTQ students that most likely didn't feel safe in his classroom over the course of his thirty year career. He came up to me before he left to apologize for any offense he caused me during the training (I had come out at some point during the training). The best part was that when he went to shake my hand, he instead grabbed me and gave me a hug. A man that thirty-six hours earlier did not want to be touched by a gay man took the initiative to hug a gay man. That is why I do what I do.

What has a career in the Anti-Defamation League taught you about hate?
The most important thing I've learned about hate is that hate starts with little jokes, stereotypes and biased attitudes that we see and hear every day. When those jokes go unchallenged, they escalate to acts of bias, like bullying or name-calling. If those actions go unchecked, they can escalate to discrimination, where people are treated differently because of who they are. And when discrimination goes unchallenged, it can escalate to the hate and violence that we've been seeing in the news, like the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. I caution people not to think of hate as "us vs. them"-- we all have a role to play in disrupting the escalation of hate and we can start by examining our own biases and thinking about how those biases play out in our everyday lives.

Has the job become more difficult in today’s divisive political climate? Or perhaps more rewarding?
Anti-bias work is always challenging, but today's divisive political climate has actually created more opportunities to reach different audiences that might not have otherwise participated in an anti-bias training. People always call me after a hate incident and ask what they can do. My answer is always the same, "Start having conversations with people who you might normally avoid because of your biases." One thing I know from experience is that it is hard to hate someone when you learn something about them. You may not like them, but it will be more difficult to not treat them with the respect that everyone deserves.

What has your experience in the Executive MPA program been like? Have you noticed any ways it has contributed to how you approach the duties of your role?
The focus on research and evaluation in my first two semesters had the greatest impact on my work. It allows me to play a more hands on role in the evaluation of our programs. I used to feel like an impostor whenever the conversation of program evaluation came up because I didn't know much about research and evaluation methods. I can now confidently participate in those conversations and play a key role in the planning of our long-term evaluation goals.