Understanding the discrimination divide
By MIA KWESKIN
There is no hierarchy of discrimination. No “ism” is greater than another – racism, sexism – all “isms” are based on prejudices that are learned not innate.
On Jan. 19, St. Louis County Public Library and the National Conference for Community and Justice of Metropolitan St. Louis (NCCJSTL) set out to teach these crucial lessons to teens in their program, For Youth By Youth: Discrimination in Schools.
The workshop consisted of a variety of activities as well as group discussions on serious problems involving all forms of discrimination in schools today.
“I thought this event as a very eye opening experience as well as a good reminder that we are all created equal,” Parkway Central High School senior Alyssa Yee said. “We should celebrate our differences and not discriminate people for them.”
But St. John Vianney High School junior Ben Dombrowski said, “We all see (discrimination) everyday.”
He pointed out that “it’s not just the blatant race discrimination, but it’s the basic name-calling and gossip also.”
One of the first workshop activities was called “Cross the Line” and offered participants the chance to get to know each other’s differences. Participants started on one side of the line and could cross the line only if they could agree with different statements. For example, “If you are a female, cross the line” or “If you have a learning or physical disability, cross the line.”
“For me, I have done this (activity) lots of times but every time I learn something,” Washington University Graduate Student Jihak Kim said.
Participants then had a chance to silently look into the eyes of the people on the same side of the line as them as well as the people across from them. After this silence, the event leaders read statistics and historical facts about discrimination towards each particular group.
“Every time, the statistics and data surprise me. It’s a good activity to see diverse people and how people have been targeted in many areas,” Kim said.
University of Missouri St. Louis student Jimin Yeo said she’s been discriminated against “many times” because of her Korean heritage.
“Some people ignore my opinions because I’m Asian,” Yeo said. “They’re scared of talking to me because they think I would not be able to understand what they’re saying.”
At the workshop, stories like Yeo’s, brought the all too real issues of discrimination in schools to light.
Among the participants there hoping to bring attention to these stories was Diversity Awareness Partnership (DAP) Program Manager Tiffany Wang. DAP hosts training and promotes awareness of discrimination through youth programs.
“(I came because I was) hoping to see how schools and the community are handling discrimination,” Wang said.
Gateway High School student and co-leader of the workshop Antwoun Stevens felt that the workshop went well. He hopes that students can take what they learned back to their schools to start discussions about these issues.
“Everyone has their own story so keep that in mind before you judge,” Stevens said.
Youth Program Manager of NCCJSTL Emily Jones likewise hopes that the workshop taught students to be aware of discrimination and to implement preventative tools learned during the workshop in their own schools.
“I hope people gained a deeper level of self-awareness and social awareness in a way in which they can continue to explore these topics,” Jones said.
As a means of prevention, the event encouraged students to become comfortable talking about these very personal topics. The underlying message of the workshop was that only through discussion of the endless forms of discrimination are students able to detect such discrimination in school, and only through detecting discrimination can students stand against it.
One of the NCCJSTL core statements is “unity is only possible though valuing, appreciating and celebrating diversity.”
The workshop spread the message that through working together to embrace diversity, rather than remaining silent, discrimination can be prevented.
“Be true to yourself and who you are and be accepting of others for who they are. Our world could be a better place,” Jones said.
Yee took away this lesson and many more from the event.
“I want to share with my friends about how everyone has a story and a lot of us are ignorant to what they may be going through. We need to be more accepting and open-minded,” Yee said. “For those people experiencing discrimination, I would tell them to stay strong and know that you’re not alone.”
Mia Kweskin and Alyssa Yee are student contributors from at Parkway Central High School.