Students discuss discrimination and stereotyping of groups
The annual open Diversity Workshop was held at Blair last Thursday after school to allow students, parents and teachers to talk about discrimination and how to recognize and stop stereotyping groups. The workshop was held in the SAC on Oct. 6 and a leader training session was held on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2005. The workshop, which attracted about 30 participants, began after school at 3:30 p.m. and lasted until 8 p.m.
In addition to Blair students who participated, there were also several students from Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington, D.C. as well as students from Thomas S. Wootton High School in Montgomery County who also attended the workshop.
Diversity Workshop is a student-run initiative aimed at identifying common stereotypes relating to ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual preference, etc. and helping to eliminate them. The workshop provides an atmosphere of trust and confidentiality that allows students to share personal stories concerning racism and discrimination.
Senior Edra Brisbane began the workshop, stressing the Diversity Workshop's three rules: Respect, Pairs and Confidentiality.
Other leaders guided participants through different parts of the workshop. Juniors Tracy-Ann Grannell and Gabrielle Labrosse-Ellis led "Up/Downs" – an exercise where the participants stood when categories were said that applied to them. For example, participants who are driven to school stood when that category was said. This exercise allowed for all the participants to get to know each other and realize that they were not the only ones who belonged to a certain group. While some of these groups were light-hearted such as being driven to school, others were more serious. Some categories mentioned related to drugs, alcohol, AIDS and cancer.
Junior Avi Silber and senior Sarah Wolk led "First Thoughts," an exercise where participants expressed all the stereotypes they had heard or seen pertaining to a group that they did not belong to. Senior Lynda Seumo and Junior Sheila Jean led "Internalized Depressions," and Senior Jeffrey Holliday led an activity called Caucuses. Other leaders who helped guide the workshop were senior Aracely Blanco, sophomore Brettney Oke and Junior Gaby Renderos.
Blair teacher Joann Malone is the Diversity Workshop Coordinator and is responsible for starting the workshop program at Blair, gaining administration support of the workshops and organizing with the teachers of the classes that the workshops are held in. Fellow Blair teacher Melissa Loh co-coordinates the workshop.
In the past, the workshops at Blair have been organized through the English and NSL teams for sophomore students. Teachers would combine classes to accommodate the three hour-long workshops. This year students are split up by academies, adding a new challenge to organizing the workshops this year. Malone is currently working on coordinating with the academy leaders to allow the workshop to come to their classes. Outside of Blair, Malone would like to hold workshops at Northwood, Wootton and Blake high schools.
Part of becoming involved with the Diversity Workshop includes training for workshop leaders. On Saturday, about 20 students and three adults met at Blair with the current leaders and Malone to receive training.
The participants reviewed different sections of the workshop that Malone identified as the hardest to lead. These included the introduction, "First Thoughts," "Hidden Identities" and "Speak Outs". The skills behind the activities are what make them hard to lead, Malone said. A leader has to be able to support the speakers, set the tone of the activity, make sure participants understand the purpose of the activity and be sensitive towards the feelings of others.
Silber, Wolk, Renderos and Holliday all returned on Saturday to help train the new leaders. Each trainee got a copy of the script for the workshop. The model used is based on one developed by the National Coalition Building Institute. Blair workshop leaders have expended and modified some activities and added discussion time at the end so participants can talk about some issues in greater depth.
New leaders learned listening and speaking skills, how to be sensitive to group dynamics and the ability to lead large groups of people while dealing with any disruptions. During the year, leaders sign up for the parts of the workshop they want to lead. Malone added that she is always present at each workshop.
Making a difference
While attending a Diversity Workshop can be beneficial, becoming a leader broadens the mind of an individual even more, according to current leaders. "It really helps you [realize] there's not much difference socially in people," Silber said. Becoming a leader helps you in all types of situations, Silber added.
Sophomore Claire Kalala is one of the Blair students who attended the Thursday workshop and the Saturday training. "I've noticed a lot of discrimination going on and I feel like if I can go through the training, I can affect change," she said. Kalala said that going to the workshop made her more aware of all the different experiences people have had in their life. "[It's] really an eye opener," she said.
Although the workshop did not attract as many people as it has in the past, Malone remained optimistic. "Even if we had had 125 kids on Thursday and 60 today, the people that end up being the most committed leaders are the ones that want to be," she said.
The new leaders, as well as anyone else interested, will continue to practice for upcoming workshops during Diversity Workshop club meetings on Tuesdays from 2:15 p.m. to 3 p.m. in Room 138.
Meaghan Mallari. Meaghan Mallari is a CAP junior at Blair and resides in Takoma Park. In her free time she plays piano and soccer and is currently an independent girl scout. She loves to run and loves spending time outdoors relaxing in the shade and calm breeze. … More »