What It’s About

Get Empathy is a youth leadership program for schools and community groups. It focuses on empowering young people to foster a culture of empathy in their environments.

The Challenge

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan found that college students today are 40% less empathic than they were in 1979, with the steepest decline coming in the last 10 years. A 1996 brief by the American Society for Curriculum Development warned that the “charge of enabling each student to achieve individual promise, including economic potential, often stands at odds with the broader need to prepare all learners to be good citizens“. It goes on to say that while “career preparation is a valid function of education, democracy demands much more. Democratic life requires critical inquiry, collective decision making, civic participation, and a commitment to the common good”. With a focus on preparing students to compete in the labor market, the culture of public education may neglect the basic lesson of empathy, leading to a culture that rewards peer humiliation and bullying.

The Solution

Bullying is one of the key social justice issues of our time. The frequency of this kind of abuse is a signal of a growing lack of skills for relationship building, empathy, and inclusion of the immense diversity young people face in today’s changing world. Rebuilding these skills will be impossible without a shift in culture toward values of service and mutual support. Young people must be empowered to shape the future of our world by building powerful, engaged communities of leaders in their schools. Leaders who stand up in the face of violence and cruelty, who defend the value of inclusion, and who identify as citizens of a diverse democracy. This is why the Get Empathy program focuses on strengthening peer support while catalyzing youth leadership. Through storytelling, citizen engagement, and creative expression, this program engages young leaders to build a culture that protects against isolation and cruelty.

How It Works

Studies have shown that a key factor for effectiveness of anti-bullying programs is whether they succeed at gaining widespread buy-in from students, teachers, administrators, and parents (See Why School Anti-Bullying Programs Don’t Work, Twemlow and Frank C. 2008). Our program teaches a community building approach that relies on storytelling and stimulates resilience.

Change Strategy

Community Building Approach

Get Empathy’s community building approach aims to transform the social environment into a more empathic, inclusive, and safe space. It is designed to catalyze a culture shift in which student leaders build relationships based on mutual support and then take action to spread these values.

Storytelling Tools

Storytelling naturally builds connection. When students have a deeper knowledge of each other’s life experience, their empathy toward one another is activated. When students receive empathy, they feel more connected to their own values and get clearer about how their challenges have inspired leadership.

Cultivating Resilience

Feeling empowered, students can make positive change at the level of culture, where problems like bullying originate. Students can draw on the support of community to stand against acts of exclusion and violence, standing up for those being attacked.

What We've Done So Far

  • Over 1,500 students trained representing over 50 schools throughout Los Angeles and on Cape Cod
  • 40 separate training events (half-day or full-day)
  • A mix of public and private K-12 schools as well as universities:
    • 10 public school districts (including LAUSD)
    • 7 private schools
    • 5 universities

What People Are Saying

“The Get Empathy workshop with our New Roads student body was electrifying, enriching, and transformative. Their dynamic yet intuitive approach resulted in a safe space through which students began tapping into their own journeys of empathic self-discovery.  It definitely affected our school culture. Students have reported an increase in their peers’ willingness to share their perspectives on deeply personal issues. Several faculty members insist that reported incidents of abusive behavior have decreased substantially.”

Mario Johonson

Academic Dean, New Roads School

“Throughout the day I liked the light touch of the leaders, encouraging us to go deeper. As a mindfulness trainer and longtime teacher of teens, I know that it’s not possible to help people be their best selves if they’re preached to. So I was excited to hear about a model that encourages teens and young leaders to create change around bullying in schools by using the teens’ stories and skills in reaching their peers.”

Betsy Hanger

Certified Instructor, Mindful Schools

“The idea is so simple: humans connect through empathy. To create a safe and supportive community, trust and understanding are essential! We practiced this in small groups, and quickly connected like old friends, even though we barely knew each other. It was powerful. I think we all left with a renewed faith in humanity, seriously. I’m inspired to get more involved with the movement because I believe everyone deserves to be understood and have a safe community. And I know that there are people out there who feel alone, and we need to show them that they never are.”


Student, LA School

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