2001-10-08 Grand Haven Tribune Stereotyping to be focus of student unity conference

Stereotyping to be focus of student unity conference
Grand Haven Tribune

An annual racial unity conference for middle school students Tuesday at Hope College will focus on the impact of stereotyping, which due to recent national events could not be timelier. Executive Director of the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance Gail Harrison explained that the sixth annual Calling All Colors conference will incorporate the national tragedies of Sept. 11, with its regular dialogues on diversity and cultural activities.

“I think it’s a real nice opportunity for students to be able to dialogue about this (national events) with their peers and trained facilitators,” Harrison said. The theme of this year’s conference is stereotyping, which Harrison said has been occurring in this country toward Arab Americans and people of Middle Eastern decent since the terrorist attacks.“We need to be very careful not to stereotype against those individuals. Stereotyping is something that is rearing its ugly head in our country at this time,” she said.

Conference Coordinator Ortencia Ruiz said that the students will dialogue about stereotyping and its effects, discuss how to handle conflicts, and will also do some role playing. She said that, for example, students will be asked how they could positively respond if a person called a Middle Eastern friend a terrorist. “I think it’s something that is definitely on the kids’ minds,” Ruiz explained of the terrorist attacks. She added that the conference will look at how stereotyping is affecting people now but also pint about that “it is something that has always been an issue.”

Nearly 200 students form 14 Ottawa and Muskegon county middle schools will come together for the event, including students form Spring Lake, Fruitport, Lakeshore and White Pines middle schools, along with Walden Green Day School and St. Mary’s Catholic School, both of Spring Lake. In addition to discussions on stereotyping, the conference will also offer students a safe place to discuss feelings about race and race relations, to learn about different points of view and to expose students to a college campus.

Hope’s Office if Multicultural Life and the Office of the Provost will host the event. Dr. Fred L. Johnson 111, professor of history at Hope, will be the keynote speaker. Johnson will discuss racism, stereotyping, and positive ways to heal, according to Harrison. “The whole day is rally tied into the theme of avoiding stereotyping; she said.

To give students a global perspective, international students at Hope will lead music, games and dance workshops and demonstrate aspects of their culture. After the conference, students will work on racial harmony action plans at their own schools and attend a follow-up conference at Grand Valley State University to report on their success.

The Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance is a grassroots group that works to promote racial harmony through education, advocacy, support network and celebrations. It began organizing the area’s Calling All Colors conference in 1996.