2003-04-30 Holland Sentinel "Students try 'Archie Bunker's Neighborhood'"

Students try 'Archie Bunker's Neighborhood'
Calling All Colors event gives students a taste of discrimination in the real world

Vicky Sivoravong had a fairly easy time securing bank loans and building permits Tuesday as she tried to create a harmonious neighborhood on a classroom floor at Grand Valley State University.

Thank goodness, she said, that she got to be Caucasian.

"What I got from this was that there are advantages to being white, at least in this (program)," Sivoravong said Tuesday after taking part in a "diversity dialogue" at the Calling All Colors Spring 2003 event. "I don't think it's that way in real life, though."

Along with many other middle school students from Ottawa and Muskegon counties, the 14-year-old Macatawa Bay School student took part Tuesday in the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance-sponsored program designed to raise awareness of racism.

Partaking in an activity titled "Archie Bunker's Neighborhood," Sivoravong and other students were assigned different ethnicities and told to deal with the unfairness that exists in the "real world" when it comes to securing money and permission needed to build a diverse neighborhood as a minority.

The day-long program also included the presentation of action plans drawn up at last fall's event along with cooperative games and presentations.

In the neighborhood dialogue, students were given certain areas of property within the classroom along with differing amounts of money and told to deal with bankers and building authority officials who were instructed by organizers to be hostile and unfair to "non-white" participants.

While students tabbed as African-American, Hispanic, Native American and Asian American were thrown in "jail" for petty offenses and "swindled" out of money and opportunities by "white" officials, most students realized that what was happening in their experiment wasn't a true reflection of how they saw the real world.

They did, however, realize the problem existed.

"I think racism happens in the real world, but I think it all depends on a person and their beliefs," said Ana Vazquez, a 13-year-old Macatawa Bay student. "I don't think it's this extreme like that normally. Discrimination isn't just because of color."

Rachel Howe, an eighth-grade teacher in Grand Haven, has been moderating at Calling All Colors for six years and said the dialogue, which was based on the 1970s television show "All in the Family" in which the lead character had racist tendencies, was portrayed the way it was to let children know that unfairness exists in the world.

She said the dialogue was not designed to portray whites in a negative light, but to show students how to deal with racism.

"We're just trying to make them aware than discrimination does occur," she said. "They need this experience so when they're put in the real world they'll be able to recognize it and do something about it."

While "minorities" were overcharged and bilked out of money by students acting as bankers and housing officials, many were thrown in jail for petty offenses and not given the chance to bail out.

That, said Holland West Middle School student Breea Root, was the most infuriating aspect of the exercise for her.

"It's just not fair they put us in here and then raise the bail so high that we can't afford it because they keep taking all of our money," she said. "What this is saying to me is that white people get better treatment all around.

"I hope that's not the way it really is."