Drawing out classroom discussion of hate speech

    Education professor uses comics-inspired illustrations to spur conversation.

    By Kateryna Barnes on November 17, 2016

    An education professor at the University of Alberta is taking inspiration from comic books to help teachers and students call out hate speech.

    Learning to Hate: An Anti-Hate Comic Project is a series of illustrations that helps teachers and education students discuss tough topics such as cyberbullying, microaggressions and harmful labelling.

    Created by education researcher Jason Wallin and Jessie Beier, an artist and education doctoral student, the illustrations focus on the small instances of discrimination and hate that youth have to deal with daily.

    “The way that hate lives with students and the way it can be such a crushing and suffocating force—it becomes all-consuming,” said Wallin, who specializes in curriculum and youth culture. “Forget all the other parts of school. I remember enough about being a teenager to remember that much.”

    An anti-hate comic project

    Hateful attacks are particularly damaging when they involve a young person’s racial, cultural, gender or sexual identity. And the large, instantly accessible audience on social media makes things that much worse.

    “What has become common sense on social media often carries underlying messages of discrimination and alienation,” said Wallin. “It also has the staying power to last forever. If someone attacks you online, there is an archive of it that can be brought up at any time. There are no take-backs.”

    Wallin plans to use the comics with his undergraduate students in the hope the materials will inspire the next generation of teachers find their own ways to start discussions with students about hate speech.

    “These teachers don’t necessarily need to use the comics,” he said, “but they can take on their own process as a way to begin to uncover a curriculum that is often quite hidden in schools.”

    Wallin got the idea for the illustrations when he taught a graduate course incorporating graphic novels.

    “Comic books are a successful medium in terms of reaching people with its ease of communication,” he said. “Anyone can pick it up and engage with it. And that’s what we wanted for these comics––we wanted them to produce questions. That was our major intent with these comics––to create resources that would catalyze conversation around how hate lives and is encountered by youth today.”

    To produce the illustrations, Beier drew on research by students in another of Wallin’s graduate courses.

    “I worked with lots of different formats––for some I created infographics, some are like comic book pages, there’s a Mad Magazine-style fold-in. I drew on a lot of popular culture and things I see online, what I think youth are engaging with, the formats they’re familiar with, turning those on their heads so people have to look closer and see that those platforms are maybe not so neutral,” she said.

    The comics are a part of Project Someone, an anti-hate initiative based at Montreal’s Concordia University that involves more than 20 collaborators across Canada.

    Watch an interview with Jessie Beier and Jason Wallin of the University of Alberta about Learning to Hate: An Anti-Hate Comic Project on Vimeo.

    This story originally appeared in the online magazine of the Faculty of Education, Illuminate.