2004-03-15 Lakeshore Press Students learn to deal with diversity

Students learn to deal with diversity
Lakeshore Press

You’re throwing a party next weekend and inviting all your best high school friends, including a black girl. Then your parents mention that your older brother is coming home from college next weekend. You have lived with him long enough to know that he is prejudiced against black people, and expect he will cause a scene when he sees your friend. So what are you going to do?

More than 100 students form 11 Lakeshore high schools had an opportunity Friday to act out situations people their age often encounter at EMBRACE, the first racial unity and social justice conference for high school students to be held in Ottawa County. The daylong conference was held at Hope College.

“I think we started a very good dialogue here today,” said Denny Chan, a Grand Haven High School senior who organized the conference with classmates active in a student club called EMBRACE (Eliminating Margins Between Races and Creeds Everywhere). “Discussing how you can handle awkward situations is a valuable part of it.”

Chan, who likely will begin pre-law studies in the fall at Michigan State University or the University of Michigan, says it “is my great hope” the conference becomes an annual event, with other high schools joining Grand Haven in the planning.

Participating in Friday’s conference were students form Grand Haven, Zeeland, Holland, West Ottawa, Spring Lake, Holland, Black River, Orchard View, Reeths Puffer, Muskegon and Muskegon Heights high schools.

Diversity Theater, a company affiliated with the Kent Intermediate School District’s Diversity Council, developed the role-plays with input from 250 secondary students on how they typically encounter racism. Students howled at the actor playing the host’s initial response-concocting a story that he had to cancel his party because his dog had diarrhea. It’s best to handle difficult situations honestly and gently, if possible, they said.

Students also agreed it “wouldn’t be enough” for the host to “un-invite: the black friend by making the excuse that the racist brother would make sure she didn’t enjoy the party. The group’s consensus was that the host should talk to his brother about his racist attitudes before the party, and not permit his brother’s prejudices to become his problem.