I think that student orgs offer an important opportunity for students from different backgrounds and perspectives to come together to do work they are passionate about. As part of my work for a student org, I have been helping to organize social justice workshops for high school students. These workshops are aimed not only at helping the students learn about their own identities, but teaching them how to accept people with different identities. One of the workshops focused on stereotypes and microaggressions. This workshop was meant to portray the dangers of making assumptions about people based on stereotypes and the negative effect that microaggressions can have on individuals that are subjected to them. When asking the students about stereotypes, I drew from Chimamanda Adichie’s TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story” for inspiration. One of the questions I asked was, “What is the danger of telling only a single story?” The students were taught how a single story doesn’t apply to all individuals and that they shouldn’t make assumptions about people based on one story. Despite this, stereotypes continue to be perpetuated throughout society. I think one of the ways to combat stereotypes is by promoting a diverse environment.
In fact, one of the most important things I think these workshops have accomplished is bringing students from different communities together to share their individual perspectives. This is an important step to tearing down the barriers between communities with different backgrounds. My student org has allowed me the opportunity to move beyond only interacting with people similar to me in my hometown community. I know in my hometown, at least, we often like to stick together and live with people like us in order to have a sense of security. However, it is important for us to move past only trusting people who come from similar backgrounds and start to accept other people.
It’s easier said than done. During one of our workshops, a student commented that, although they think social justice education is very important, they couldn’t imagine their peers at school being willing to change and accept people with identities other than their own. I advised that they try speaking to their peers and teaching them how stereotypes and microaggressions, for example, send the wrong message. I have also challenged myself to become friends with people from diverse backgrounds so that I can at least tear down some of these barriers in my own life.
This student org has allowed me to do that. As soon as I came to Michigan I knew I wanted to be involved in this student org, because as a high school student they gave me the opportunity to meet a diverse group of students through one of their outreach programs. At first we were all awkward around each other, but once we began talking, we were able to relate to each other. I want other students to have the same chance to get out of their comfort zone and meet new people. I hope that the students we’re working with in this social justice program realize it’s better to have many different perspectives than only one.