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They were given the names of several fictional people and asked to determine their class status:
“Jose Torres” — “lower class,” the room full of high school students quickly agreed.
“Working class,” they guessed when they saw the name “Lamar Jackson.”
It was also unanimous for the name “Isaac Goldman” — “it sounds upper class,” one student said.
The students were participating in a “Racism and Youth” workshop designed to teach them about stereotypes, prejudice, and how it affects their views and interactions with other people.
“We all have pictures in our mind of what people are supposed to be like,” workshop presenter Lorna Gonsalves told the students.
“We need to remember that everyone should be thought of as individuals.”
Ms. Gonsalves is a race relations expert who has taught at Bowling Green State University and the University of Toledo.
Her workshop was part of Maumee Valley Country Day School’s Issue Day 2013, a daylong conference Friday at the school.
Hundreds of students from Maumee Valley Country Day, Toledo Early College, Ottawa Hills, Lake Local, St. John’s Jesuit, Southview, and Maumee high schools participated.
This year’s theme: “Youth Culture: Growing Up in the Modern Age.”
The event featured more than three dozen workshop topics, including how teens are targeted by tobacco manufacturers, safe sex, poverty, bullying, health and nutrition, politics, technology, and developing leadership skills.
Issue Day is organized by juniors at Maumee Valley.
“The goal of the event is to get students involved in issues that they encounter in everyday life,” said Maumee Valley junior Rochell Issa, 17, one of the organizers.
Cammie Lonsway, 17, another organizer, said past events have focused on technology issues.
This year’s organizers wanted more thought-provoking topics.
“We originally wanted to call it “Sex, Drugs, and Rock n’ Roll,” Cammie said.
But school officials encouraged a less provocative title.
“We wanted to do something new that relates to our culture,” she said. “We wanted to put a large variety of issues out that we could get into.”
At the start of her “Racism and Youth” workshop, Ms. Gonsalves told students the definition of racism includes hate, fear, ignorance, and intolerance. “What comes to mind when you hear the words “racism in the U.S.?” she asked.
Several students immediately answered, noting attitudes toward “immigrants.”
Others said the phrase conjured images of the late black motorist Rodney King, who was beaten by Los Angeles police during a traffic stop in 1991, or how Muslims, and people mistaken for Muslims, were mistreated in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
Ms. Gonsalves had students participate in interactive and role-playing exercises.
In one scenario, Kulaya Pickett, a 14-year-old freshman at Maumee Valley, was asked to portray a stereotypical-looking pot-smoker. Caleb Willhight, 17, a senior at the same school, played the role of a clean-cut kid, who also smoked pot.
Ms. Gonsalves, who portrayed a police officer, immediately targeted Kulaya.
After the skit, Kulaya admitted she was upset at being singled out by the police officer. Caleb didn’t see anything wrong with the officer’s actions.
“He was just doing his job,” Caleb said.
Ms. Gonsalves pointed out that stereotypes and preconceptions can sometimes prompt people to act unfairly toward others. The same action can be interpreted differently by people, depending on their experiences, she said.
The message connected with many students.
“We shouldn’t stereotype by looks or name — but we tend to do that,” Kulaya said. “You have to learn how to work past that.”
Contact Federico Martinez at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6154.