Helping Youth Build Skills to Interrupt Bias


Youth workers have an important role in fostering anti-racism in youth programs by interrupting biased and harmful comments made by others and serving as an ally for those experiencing bias. Resources are available to youth workers on how to interrupt biases and for teaching youth and adults to interrupt bias.

By Karyn Santl and adapted by Karen Shirer

Becoming anti-racist or an ally of differently-abled persons is an ongoing learning and growth process. One action we can take is to build our skills to interrupt biases or stereotypes when encountering them.

Interruptions are:

  • Often an attempt to stop a present or future harmful behavior
  • Model respectful words and actions to others
  • Create a safe space for the all
  • Advocate for those oppressed by the behavior
  • Support those being harmed

Interrupting oppressive and biased actions and words is a form of allyship. It shows you care and want people to be safe.

Hands of all diversity coming together joined at the wrists

Resources on Interrupting Bias 

Youth workers can role model interrupting biases as well as teach skills to interrupt. Two helpful resources for increasing our skills in this area are Speak Up at School by Learning for Justice, and the Toolkit for Interrupting Oppression by the Oregon Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

The Speak Up at School guide gives these strategies to use at the moment when hurtful words or actions are taking place:  

  1. Interrupt. Speak up against every biased remark or action.
  2. Question. Use simple, exploratory questions such as, “Why do you say that?” “What do you mean?” or “Tell me more.”
  3. Educate. Explain why the term or phrase is offensive.
  4. Echo. Be the second or third person to speak up. 

The Interrupting Oppression Toolkit provides practical and useful examples for interrupting bias including:        

  1. Ask for clarity. “By ‘crazy’ do you mean awesome? Unexpected? Wrong?”
  2. Voice your values. “Please refrain from using ableist language like dumb and lame.”
  3. Appeal to a sense of shared humanity. “How would that person or someone from that group feel if they heard you?”
  4. Fall back on rules or policies. “This is a place where it is not ok to use violent language.”  

Many of us may feel frustrated when we hear biased language and fail to respond as we hoped. We can learn from these experiences and increase our skills to be ready to interrupt. What phrases or tools do you use to interrupt bias?  

Call to Action


  1. Dias, J. (2021, February 19). What Is Allyship? Your Questions Answered.  Center for Creative Leadership. 
  2. Learning for Justice. (N.d.). Speak Up at School by Learning for Justice 
  3. Oregon Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. (2018). Toolkit for Interrupting Oppression. 
  4. The University of Michigan. (N.d.). Interrupting Bias: The PALs Approach  [Infographic]. 

Karen Santl, Regional Extension Educator, Youth Development
Karyn Santl

Karyn Santl a Regional Extension Educator, Youth Development with expertise in youth development, volunteer systems, and the 4-H program.  She has focused her work on equipping adults to develop quality youth development programs that develop a passion for learning in youth and provide youth with opportunities to lead.  Karyn has extensive teaching experience with youth and adult volunteers and Extension professionals.  She enjoys it when others see success in themselves.

Karen Shirer, Ph.D
Karen Shirer, Ph.D

Karen Shirer is a member of the One Op Family Transitions Team and was previously the Associate Dean of the University of Minnesota, Extension Center for Family Development. Karen is also the parent of two adult daughters, a grandmother, a spouse, and a cancer survivor.

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