Jennifer Rodgers: Embracing Tough Conversations

It was in August, 2017, when the “Unite the Right” rally brought White supremacists and neo-Nazis to a violent confrontation  in  Charlottesville, Va. that Jennifer Rodgers,  a US and Comparative Government and Politics, International Relations, and Global Social Issues teacher at Dominion High School in Virginia,  felt that she had to do something. 

“I became increasingly disturbed by the events in Charlottesville. The outpouring of hate that happened there that day opened my eyes to the big purpose of education, which is to make sure our students are good citizens and globally minded,” said the Loudon County educator. 

Hearing about the TOLI National Seminar for teachers in New York, Jennifer applied and participated in the 2018 annual summer program. It was a transformative experience. “I just knew the answer to what happened there was in the classroom, so TOLI seemed like the perfect fit for this drive. I have to make sure our students aren’t ignorant or prejudiced, and that they have the compassion and courage to stand up to injustice when they encounter it.”

 In 2019 she attended TOLI’s leadership seminar and will launch her own Satellite in her home state of Virginia, along with fellow teacher and TOLI alumnae  Nicole Korsen, to bridge local social justice issues with the lessons of the Holocaust. Through her teaching in the classroom and the leadership summit she founded and directs, Jennifer is connecting students all around the world through Holocaust and human rights education. Jennifer was selected as the 2019 Loudoun County Teacher of the Year and the 2020 Virginia Region IV Teacher of the Year.

Beyond addressing important present-day issues, Jennifer has been able to use the TOLI model to address themes of authoritarianism and its roots, while also expanding genocide education in her classroom to incorporate a deeper study of the Holocaust and the Cambodian genocide. Through this programming, Jennifer and her colleagues at Dominion High School have organized field trips which bring together the Jewish Student Union and the Muslim Association, and also invited survivors of the Khmer Rouge’s brutal campaign of genocide to share their stories in a school assembly.  “The drive and vision for why that was important came from my TOLI experience.”

When it comes to bridging the lessons of the Holocaust to local social justice issues, Jennifer is no stranger to having tough conversations. “In Virginia there are a lot of locally relevant race-based social justice conversations to be had.  Our school district was one of the last to integrate in the country and the legacy of racial injustice persists today. There has been a lot of debate and discussion locally about the confederate statue in front of our county courthouse.  There are also three lynching sites in our county that have been identified and are being memorialized in conjunction with the Equal Justice Initiative’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice.  There is a lot of local activism efforts to present a more full and complete narrative of our history, recognizing the role the enslaved played in building our community and the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation.”


Jennifer also founded and directs the Loudoun International Youth Leadership Summit, an annual international leadership summit in Virginia that engages local students with their peers from around the world. Every spring for the last eight years, students come from other countries for ten days to explore global issues.  In 2019 the program hosted 135 international students representing 25 different countries, and thousands of local students were engaged in various aspects of the program.  A highlight of the program was a component focused on Holocaust education, the “adopt-a-survivor” event, coordinated by the Nicole Korsen, which connected small groups of students with different Holocaust survivors who “adopted” their stories to carry into the future.  Additionally, Irving Roth, a Holocaust survivor who recently spoke as part of a TOLI livestream event, attended an evening community event as part of the summit.

 It was an “incredibly powerful opportunity for our community to connect with the program, for students to hear firsthand accounts, and for these stories of Holocaust survivors to go back all over the world, ” said Jennifer.  At a time when racism has come to the forefront of the national conversation, TOLI is proud to have Jennifer Rodgers playing an important part in breaking the boundaries of prejudice and hate.


For more information about The Olga Lengyel Institute for Holocaust Studies and Human Rights (TOLI), please contact

TOLI is located at 58 East 79th Street in Manhattan. (get directions)