Washtenaw students use The Race Card Project to confront bullying

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REPOST: Amy Biolchini | amybiolchini@mlive.com November 08, 2013 at 5:34 PM


“Only laundry should be separated by color.”

Powerful words from a high school student—shared during the second annual Youth Diversity Forum with a room full of Washtenaw County high schoolers—helped set the tone for a day-long discussion Friday at Eastern Michigan University.

About 200 students and teachers from every public school district in Washtenaw County attended the forum, held at EMU’s College of Business in downtown Ypsilanti.

High school students participate in a social identity exercise at the second annual Youth Diversity Forum at Eastern Michigan University’s College of Business in Ypsilanti.

Conversations lead by educational leaders gave students examples of how to confront racial and social stereotypes and social inequalities in school, as well as strategies to use to build a school culture that addresses bullying.
Students from Skyline High School in Ann Arbor gave a presentation on a Race Card project that they did in their school last year.

It’s the same model used by Race Card project creator and NPR correspondent Michele Norris, who implemented the social experiment on the University of Michigan’s campus.

Students at the forum were challenged to implement the Race Card project at their home schools. They practiced the exercise Friday all together: students wrote down six words that describe their thoughts on race, ethnicity and identity.

They then shared them with the group—and the answers were powerful:

“Just because I’m brown doesn’t mean I’m from out-of-town.”

“There’s no first place in this race.”

“I am not a chemistry set.”

“One box. One package. One race.”

“Pro-black isn’t anti-everything else.”

“I don’t live in the ghetto.”

“A little goes a long way.”

After the first Youth Diversity Forum last year, students said they wanted more of the event to focus on ways to prevent the bullying issues they see in their schools due to social inequality.
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Dave Simancek, principal of Swartz Creek Academy, speaks to Washtenaw County high school students Friday at the second annual Youth Diversity Forum in Ypsilanti.
Amy Biolchini | The Ann Arbor News

Coordinators brought in Dave Simancek, principal of Swartz Creek Academy near Flint, to speak Friday to the teens and school staff. The academy is an alternative program for about 125 students that struggled in a traditional high school setting.
Simancek was previously the assistant principal at Swartz Creek High School in the same district, where he implemented a program that turned around the culture to confront bullying.

He shared with students Friday what it takes to effect positive change. Statistics, inspirational videos and one-time daylong programs like Challenge Day don’t have lasting effects on a school, Simancek said.

Relationship building and changing the culture at the school is the only way to effect change, Simancek said, noting that it’s unrealistic to expect that bullying could be completely stopped.

At Swartz Creek, Simancek said he had reached a tipping point when he saw a student knock a laptop out of the hands of a special needs student in the middle of a busy hallway—an incident that concerned many students and staff.

Simancek knew something had to change at the school—and he began initiating after-school meetings that drew almost 100 students to ask them to look out for bullying and to step in to help victims.

The “Power of 100” campaign was aimed to empower the students that stood up against bullying through positive marketing campaigns and to give the “heroes” that stepped in to help other students more ownership of the school.

Simancek told the group of students Friday at the diversity forum that they have to care enough to step in to make the changes at their school, and that it takes open dialogue between students and principals in order to confront serious issues.

The Youth Diversity Forum also featured motivational speaker Eric Thomas.

The event was sponsored by the United Way of Washtenaw, Washtenaw Community College, Steve’s Custom Signs, Aubree’s Pizzeria and was possible from donations from EMU and Zingerman’s Bakehouse.

Amy Biolchini is the K-12 education reporter for The Ann Arbor News. Reach her at amybiolchini@mlive.com or on Twitter. Find all Washtenaw County K-12 education stories on MLive.com.

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