What is an upstander? An upstander is an individual who sees wrong and acts. A person who takes a stand against an act of injustice or intolerance is not a “positive bystander,” they are an UPstander.
by Sarah Decker and Monica Mahal
What is an upstander? Unfortunately, there are students nationwide that have not been exposed to this word, which represents an identity with the potential to change the course of our history. Students can easily recognize the bully, the “bad guy,” the one throwing the punches...and most can point out the bystanders, the individuals in the shadows, watching and doing nothing... so who are the upstanders?
An upstander is an individual who sees wrong and acts, and the most important part is that anyone can become one. Many programs and sources call the act of standing up “positive bystander intervention,” but this misses the point. A person who takes a stand against an act of injustice or intolerance is not a “positive bystander,” they are an UPstander. The word itself has the ability to empower students to make an active change in their schools, in an effort to build communities that support difference and unify against intolerance.
The concept of an upstander is critical to the well-being of our society. During bullying prevention movements in our school, the term upstander was used on a casual basis. While we were typing up a speech, huddled in a coffee shop on a cold winter day, the word upstander continued to appear on the screen with the distinct red squiggly line beneath it. The message was clear: there is an error.
We both double checked our spelling, still to no avail of eliminating the spell check notification. At that moment we realized that this groundbreaking term, one that has inspired our own local community to eschew intolerance, is technically not an official English word. Since then, we have been determined to give upstander its deserved spot in the dictionary.
Getting a word in the dictionary involves two key steps: increasing its usage and proving its prevalence in publications. The term upstander is used in diplomacy, particularly by UN Ambassador Samantha Power; in non-profit organizations, such as Facing History and Ourselves; and especially in tolerance movements. We seek to form a united front to bring awareness of this cause to the Oxford and Webster dictionaries. To do so, we have created a Change.org petition to gather support for the upstander movement.
Nearly 500 people from across the country and even around the world have signed on to show their support. The map of signatures reaffirms how the concept of being an upstander, of standing up against injustice, defies political boundaries and has truly proven to be universal.
The Not in Our School movement highlights the importance of teaching students to stand up against injustice and intolerance by building communities of upstanders. This movement grants schools world wide access to media and documentary footage of schools that have utilized the upstander theme to create dramatic change on their own campuses.
The tools and resources made available by NIOS have the power to perpetuate further change and to create communities where difference is celebrated. In our second year of high school, NIOS filmed a documentary featuring our school, Watchung Hills’ response to cyber bullying. This documentary marks the beginning of media support of our school’s campaign against intolerance and bullying which culminated during our “White Out” event of 2013. NIOS has helped our high school gather the support needed to continue anti-bullying efforts and continues to inspire us today as we attempt to rally global support to define the word that started it all.
Each one of us as the power and courage to rise as upstanders, to stand up against injustice. To change our communities, our countries, and even our world. Defining the term upstander will add legitimacy to this role, and serve as a concept that our society should strive to embrace. Together as upstanders, we can change the course of human history towards a future of mindful, active global citizens.