A student team from the University of Maryland won first place in the Peer to Peer: Challenging Extremism competition on July 18 at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. Led by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the competition challenged students from across the nation to develop and execute campaigns and social media strategies to combat violent extremism online.
The competition team, which included students from UMD’s College of Behavioral and Social Sciences: Tayler Schmidt, Victoria Challenger, Brittni Fine, Marcella Goldring and Elizabeth Streit, competed against 49 other teams, winning $5,000 and the opportunity to work with potential partners from the DHS and EdVenture on their “It Takes Just One” campaign.
The team’s campaign, aimed at empowering bystanders to intervene and help steer individuals away from radicalization, is derived from the idea that “it takes just one person to care, just one choice to make a difference, and just one action to save a life.” To actualize this idea, the students started a social media campaign, interviewed family members and friends of radicalized individuals and created a “choose your own adventure” style video game.
“We worked hard to give a platform to people who never had a chance to share their stories, and to use those stories to help change the world,” said Fine, a recently graduated psychology major.
“From here we hope to create a network of bystanders of violent extremism, current and past, who are willing to help normalize and destigmatize the conversation surrounding the bystander effect,” Schmidt added.
The idea for the project began in a course offered through the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) at UMD. Taught by START Center’s Education Director Katherine Izsakand Executive Director William Braniff, the course challenges global terrorism minor students to develop solutions to issues of radicalization through communities.
“Combining the unique expertise of our START Center professionals with the passion of our students is clearly a winning strategy for combating complex issues such as violent extremism,” said Gregory Ball, Dean of the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences. “These are exactly the kinds of opportunities we want our students to be involved in—developing innovative solutions to problems in the real world.”
The team hopes to improve their educational video game, which will require outside funding and increasing their bystander outreach efforts. Through additional real stories, the “It Takes Just One” team will to continue to encourage those in similar situations to step in and say something to individuals at risk. The idea is that those who did not intervene can offer answers that can be integrated into the video game’s curriculum and future messages.
*UMD student Zane Moses contributed to this article.