The Office of Diversity Programs kicked-off its annual diversity week by hosting the Power over Prejudice Summit. On Thursday and Friday the Office of Diversity Programs teamed up with the Anti-Prejudice Consortium and, over the course of three days, welcomed students from 68 different middle schools across Atlanta to the 14th annual Power Over Prejudice Summit.
“One of the goals of my office is to develop cultural competence among Georgia Tech students,” said Stephanie Ray, Associate Dean of Students and Director of the Office of Diversity Programs.
Diversity Week, sponsored by the Office of Diversity Programs, aims to break down the walls of diversity.
The week boasted several different events some of which include “Say my name, Say my Name,” a workshop focused on helping people correctly pronounce Chinese surnames.
“The Chinese are one of the largest ethnic groups at Georgia Tech and the largest in the world, and, in order to effectively communicate with someone, you need to be able to pronounce their name,” said Ray.
Uncovering the Scarf: Seeing the World from Her View, a hands-on experience of uncovering the significance of a woman’s headscarf in Hijab. Participating women wore a Hijab for two days and took notes on others’ reactions to the headscarf.
On Wednesday they sponsored a film screening of , a film about people living with Asperger’s Syndrome.
Thursday the events included a second round of Uncovering the Scarf and a conversational sign language for beginners class.
Wrapping up the week was a Safe Space Training event that was aimed to teach allies how to support Tech’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual and Questioning community.
According to the APC’s website, the Power over Prejudice Summit, “brings teams of middle school students together to participate in a one-day workshop on prejudice and discrimination. Students spend the day in small breakout groups learning about the impact that cultural, racial, ethnic, socioeconomic and physical indifferences have on their peer group.”
The summit was a chance for middle-school students to interact with peers from different racial, social and religious backgrounds—a chance that many would not otherwise get until later in life—and learn about a number of issues related to diversity.
Though each session began and ended with students grouped together with counselors and students from their own school, for the bulk of the day, students were randomly assigned to groups, making it impossible for them not to reach out to other groups.
Ray said that these cross-cultural interactions are a lot of fun to watch develop.
Ray said, “What’s cool about it is that you have private school children in groups with public school children, students from Jewish Schools together with students from Muslim schools… I hope that [the students] will leave here learning to value other people and their differences. For many of these students, they’ve never met anyone different or outside of their own group until they’ve come here and gone to that morning group. It’s always so exciting to see them talking to all the other students.”
One incident in particular that caught Ray’s attention was watching students from a predominately Muslim school working on a project with students from a predominately Jewish school.
Each session kicked off with a speech by Leon Bass, a retired school principal and renowned humanitarian. Bass discussed his background growing up in a segregated community and how segregation even followed him into the Army in World War II, where he and his white friends were forced to register in separate lines for separate divisions.
In reference to the importance of diversity programs, he spoke about his experience in seeing the results of the Holocaust upon entering the death camp at Buchenwald.
“He feels likes it’s his job, even though he’s not Jewish, to tell that story. He knows that he’s one of the few people left who actually experienced the story first-hand,” said Ray.
Bullying, which Ray says is something she really wants to see schools address, played a large role in the curriculum for the Summit.
“People are usually bullied because they’re different in some way, so it’s very much tied to diversity. It could be because of your clothing, it could be because of your size, it could be that you’re too fat or too short, it could be that you have funny eyes, or whatever. Kids will always find a way to target each other based on some minor consideration that really doesn’t matter in the larger scheme of life,” said Ray.
To help make students more aware of the triviality of typical targets for bullying, one of the day’s events was the Dot Exercise. Students had a colored dot placed on their forehead and were told to, without speaking, group together with students with the same color. What the students didn’t realize, however, was that one student was given a unique color and, as a result, was excluded from each group he attempted to join.
Accompanying the students and counselors were approximately 100 facilitators, many of whom were Tech students, who directed discussions and helped lead activities for the day. Before, though, they went through the same curriculum as the student’s, and a rigorous training session on how the idea of diversity is understood by the middle-school age group.
Ray said that the fact that the program has been located on Tech’s campus for 13 of the past 14 years means that many current Tech students have memories of attending the Summit themselves when they were younger.
Ray said, “I was in line at Dunkin’ Donuts yesterday getting my morning coffee, when a Georgia Tech student behind me said, ‘Oh, it’s Power Over Prejudice time again.’ I turned around and [asked her] how she knew about that, and she said, ‘I came here when I was in the 7th grade,’” said Ray.