ASU alumna publishes report on effectiveness of Holocaust education mandates across US

November 10, 2021

In August of this year, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed HB 2241, which requires students to be taught about the Holocaust and other genocides at least twice between 7th and 12th grades. This mandate has been pushed for because many Americans “know what the Holocaust was and approximately when it happened, but fewer than half can correctly answer multiple-choice questions about the number of Jews who were murdered or the way Adolf Hitler came to power,” according to a survey by the Pew Research Center.

This legislation was a big win for the Phoenix Holocaust Association (PHA), which had been working for years with state legislators, lobbyists, community organizations and individuals to pass a bill that would mandate Holocaust and genocide education in Arizona schools. Photo of the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, Germany Photo of the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, Germany. Photo courtesy of Download Full Image

Yet after fighting to pass the legislation, the association's Vice President Janice Friebaum realized that passing the mandate wouldn’t be enough, and that it would have to be implemented in order to be effective.

“So far as I was aware, no comprehensive review has been conducted, to date, of the states that have passed some sort of Holocaust and genocide education legislation,” Friebaum said. “I proposed that PHA locate a graduate student researcher to look at the details of each state’s bill, learn – via direct communication with key stakeholders – whether the bill has been successfully implemented and if not, why.”

A project proposal was put together by Friebaum and was guided under the Phoenix Holocaust Association's President, Sheryl Bronkesh. They received a donation from Steven and Suzanne Hilton to complete the research.

The association contacted Assistant Professor of history Volker Benkert, who specializes in researching modern German, German-Jewish and European history in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies at Arizona State University, to ask if he could help identify a student who would be best to take up this research. 

One issue Benkert wanted the report to address is how these teaching mandates can “use our understanding of the Holocaust as the paradigmatic genocide to foster awareness of other genocides.”

Benkert approached student Lindsey Stillman as she was wrapping up her master’s degree in World War II studies, remembering she had discussed her interests in Holocaust education. As an experienced teacher already, Stillman was the perfect fit for the project.

“At the outset, we wanted this report to inform and influence the bill in Arizona to give it the best chance possible of success after its passage,” Friebaum said. “The collateral benefit of the report would be to assist other states in their efforts to pass or amend Holocaust and genocide education bills that will be successfully implemented. But the 2021 Arizona bill was on a much faster track than (Stillman's) study; its language was crafted before the report was finished. Consequently, the report’s importance for Arizona is in considering future related bills.”

Despite the focus of the report shifting slightly, Stillman was able to highlight the strengths of Holocaust education mandates currently in place across the U.S., as well as their need for improvement. 

Stillman reached out and conducted interviews with many individuals and organizations who had worked to pass laws in their own states. However, one challenge she faced was in locating bills and state standards for each of the states due to there being no uniform system across the nation, and not all states provide information to the public the same way. 

Using her skills in historical knowledge and analysis, research and presentation fostered during her studies in the WWII master’s program, she was able to collect the data from the 21 states she was researching. 

“The most interesting part that I learned while conducting this report was the general consensus amongst those interviewed for the need for effective mandates in the U.S.,” Stillman said. “The majority of the people I contacted felt that their own mandates were not entirely successful as they lacked funding, task forces as administrative structures and oversight to ensure accountability and funding. Despite this, there was a general fervor and passion that stemmed from each of those involved to continue working on improving and including Holocaust education in their schools.”

The report was recently completed and is now in the process of being shared with Arizona legislatures, partners and organizations across the nation and other interested parties. 

“It is crucial that students are taught about the Holocaust to prevent future acts of hate,” Stillman said. “With the rise in ignorance and anti-Semitic attacks, it is critical that the youth is taught not just about the events that transpired, but also about the events prior that permitted such an atrocity to occur. With the information gathered in the report, legislatures and those involved in education have the opportunity to assess their own systems, and hopefully, enact positive changes.”

The Phoenix Holocaust Association and many others will continue to help inform future mandates across the U.S. The full report by Stillman can be read here.

Rachel Bunning

Communications program coordinator, School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies

'Seize the Moment': Coalition of ASU leaders launch vision to address the intersecting crises of the pandemic

November 10, 2021

Shaping tomorrow requires path-breaking, creative solutions. That challenge has never been more critical than it is today, as a “syndemic” of intersecting crises — the coronavirus pandemic, racial injustice and accompanying civil unrest, and cascading environmental hazards — have had a cascading effect on social systems and death rates around the world.

At this critical time in human history, Regents Professor Sally Kitch, Professor of Practice Diana Ayton-Shenker and a coalition of influential leaders across Arizona State University have launched Seize the Moment, a new initiative designed to address the challenges of the current moment through transdisciplinary collaborations in the arts, sciences, humanities and technology in pedagogy, research and public engagement. A mosaic of images depicting various social, health and environmental crises. Download Full Image

“We know that complex problems require creative solutions,” said Ayton-Shenker, CEO of Leonardo/ISAST and executive director of the think tank's partnership with ASU. “Creativity is what the world needs today. To seize this moment at ASU, Leonardo is honored to collaborate with the Humanities Lab and the Global Futures Lab, centering arts, science and technology together with the humanities as key drivers to reimagine higher education.” 

Centering around themes of social justice, environmental action, public health and future building, Seize the Moment features a diverse array of interdisciplinary, collaborative engagements within and beyond the university, ranging from academic classes and online courses to research grants, public events, pitch contests and more. 

"Often, humans are limited to addressing the symptoms of the problems they really need to solve,” said Kitch, founding director of the Humanities Lab. “Fully probing global challenges requires addressing the questions considered by artists and humanists: How is environmental injustice related to racial injustice? Why have humans allowed their planetary home to reach its current degraded state?” 

Working in transdisciplinary student and faculty teams, the Humanities Lab offers students hands-on opportunities to tackle complex problems in society. 

“Your assignments aren't just ... quizzes or papers,” said student Sofya Pangburn, “but projects that can make an impact.” 

Seize the Moment also features new Leonardo Labs, a series of online courses developed in partnership with Leonardo/ISAST, one of the foremost arts-science-technology organizations in the world. Drawing on over 50 years at the forefront of publishing, fellowships, residencies and more, Leonardo Labs use experimental art and publications, augmented reality and other game-changing, creative technologies to navigate crises, build resilience and shape the future.

With the Seize the Moment initiative, students and faculty will have the opportunity to take their impact outcomes to the next level through Amplifier mini-grants and Beyond the Lab fellowships, which provide competitive funding to create projects and reach new communities.  

Inspired by his experience in the “Humanizing Digital Culture” course earlier this fall, graduate student Jason Robinson is currently working on a proposal to transform elevators into a public art space through augmented reality. 

“As a user experience designer and master's student in public interest technology at ASU, I spend a lot of time thinking about how we express, communicate and function in our digital lives. We’re currently putting together a detailed feasibility study of the proposal we formed in the lab: a distributed, place-based public gallery exhibition that uses augmented reality (and elevators) as tools to tell impactful human stories. I can’t wait to see where this investigation takes us.”

Other outcomes from this semester’s labs include a performance art piece on greenwashing, a video series on the intersection of race and disability, and a brochure on vaccine hesitancy among immigrant populations. Student outcomes will be featured in a dynamic variety show on Dec. 2. 

This spring, Seize the Moment and the Humanities Lab are offering eight new courses across a wide variety of subjects and disciplines. In "Language Emergency," students will collaborate with the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian community to document and revitalize the O’odham and Piipaash languages. In "Decolonizing 'Madness,'" students will map the cumulative effects of intergenerational trauma and amplify Black, Indigenous and people of color's resilience and strategies of resistance. 

For all the impact labs have on students, they’re also powerful experiences for faculty, who rarely have the opportunity to collaborate outside of their own discipline.

“For me, integrating creative fiction, films and documentaries into the course was a very unique and enriching experience,” said Rimjhim Aggarwal, who co-taught "Food, Health and Climate Change" with Joni Adamson in fall 2021. “It led to the kinds of conversations I have never had in my own classes related to the historical roots of conditions we are facing today.”

Adamson concurred: “Although Professor Aggarwal and I had worked together on grant projects before, I had never had the pleasure of seeing her teach. Nor was I as familiar with the policy issues as she, so I was able to put fictional works into a much deeper and more policy-oriented context. I had not known before how these facts shape our current climate, economic and social issues when it comes to food and agriculture.”

Outside of teaching a lab, ASU faculty have additional opportunities through Seize the Moment seed grants, which offer up to $10,000 to support the collaborative, transdisciplinary, solution-focused scholarship called for by the current syndemic. Explicitly designed to bring together the arts and humanities with science and technology, the seed grants are one of the most transdisciplinary programs of its kind at Arizona State University. For its first cycle, Seize the Moment received over 30 pitches. The recipients will be announced in January 2022. 

This spring, Seize the Moment and Leonardo will launch Leonardo Liftoff, a dynamic showcase for art-centered enterprise and creative economy entrepreneurs, shining a spotlight on the ideas, people and projects that can change the world.  

Over the last 10 years, Arizona State University has dedicated itself to becoming a New American University, serving as model for how transdisciplinary, socially-embedded research can advance research and discovery of public value, improve the lives of individual people and assume fundamental responsibility for the communities it serves. 

As a deeper meditation on the values and principles contained in ASU's Charter and Design Aspirations, Seize the Moment represents the next stage of higher education, serving at the forefront of Arizona State University's commitment to create a more just and livable global future. While the program has received funding for two years through a Strategic Initiative grant from the President's Office, the hope is to effect a permanent transformation in higher education.

To learn more about Seize the Moment, individuals can sign up for the mailing list or visit the initiative’s website at

Jake Friedman

Public Engagement Coordinator, Seize the Moment