LPMS students get lesson in diversity
By PAUL COLLINS Bulletin Staff Writer
Activities involving labeling people (or being labeled) and spreading rumors were part of an assembly about diversity presented Friday at Laurel Park Middle School by Sherell M. Fuller, an Axton native and director of the Teaching Fellows Program at Winthrop University in South Carolina.
She titled the program, "Diversity: Understanding and Respecting Others."
Separate assemblies were held for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders.
As students came into the school auditorium for the sixth-grade assembly, students were asked to each get a sticky label, not look at the label they had been given, place the label on their foreheads and not to tell other students what the labels on the other students’ foreheads said.
Then students reacted nonverbally to labels on other students’ foreheads. Labels said such things as "Smile at me, "Point at me and laugh" and "Turn away from me."
Fuller, walking up and down aisles interacting with students, led a discussion in which she asked students about labeling. Fuller asked such questions as: "How did it feel to do this activity? What can we do to change our non-verbal behavior to help people feel included? What can we do to change any behavior that makes people feel excluded? What do people from groups that are left out or excluded sometimes do? Any thoughts on why people exclude others? Any thoughts on how it feels to be part of the excluded group?"
During the debriefing, even though they knew it was just an activity, some students’ feelings still were hurt from reactions to the labels on their heads.
Fuller also pointed out: "Most of us have experienced times when we felt like we were wearing a ‘turn away from me’ label. Some groups experience this more than others, even regularly. No one said anything negative; nonverbal communication is just as powerful. Over 90 percent of our communication is nonverbal."
Then Fuller led a discussion about diversity.
She described diversity as "different," whether in language, religion, race, ethnicity, cultural traditions, where people live or what jobs they have.
Explaining cultural differences, she said, "What might be weird to one person might not be weird to another person."
She said she knew a Vietnamese family that ate dog, which was acceptable in their culture. Some students in the audience seemed repulsed at the thought of eating dog meat.
Then Fuller asked how many students in the audience eat cow meat, and many raised their hands. Fuller pointed out that eating cow is a no-no in Hindu culture. The cow is revered in Hinduism.
Fuller pointed out that issues with diversity include: fear (of differences and change): wanting everyone to be the same; not accepting that others don’t have the same beliefs; ignorance (not knowing); prejudice; racism; and discrimination.
She also asked students about name-calling and some of the good or bad names they have been called. They included dumb, ugly, awesome, gorgeous, stupid, ghetto, tall, cool, beautiful, pretty, and some profane words, among others.
Fuller asked students what is the impact of name calling (some said negative words hurt); if name calling is common (some said yes); short- and long-term effects of name calling; and what can be done.
Fuller urged students to "choose dignity."
For the activity about spreading rumors, Fuller asked for volunteers, and she chose about a dozen students to come down and stand in front of the stage in a line facing the audience. She told those students she was going to whisper something to the first student (on the left facing the audience), and that student was to whisper the message to the next student, and so forth, until a message was relayed to the last person in the line. Then Fuller would ask the last student to tell the message, to see whether it had changed.
Fuller said later she began by whispering this message to the first student: "I am going to the grocery store to get apples, bananas and oranges."
When Fuller asked the last student what the message was, the student said: "Go to the store to get applesauce and tell it."
And so it is with rumor telling, according to Fuller. What one person says may not be understood by another person, or it may get twisted or added to, or someone may try to tell it more creatively, or it may be told based on one’s perspective, Fuller and students said during the discussion.
Fuller told the students that if and when they spread rumors, those rumors can be changed quickly. She also advised students to be careful about personal information they tell others.
Fuller also showed a slide labeled "pyramid of hate."
Starting at the b
ase of the pyramid and working to the top, the pyramid had these levels:
nPrejudiced attitudes (the bottom level of the pyramid): accepting stereotypes, not challenging belittling jokes, and scapegoating (assigning blame to people because of their group identity).
Acts of prejudice: name calling, ridicule, social avoidance, social exclusion, telling belittling jokes.
nDiscrimination: in employment, housing or education; harassment (hostile acts based on a person’s race, religion, nationality, sexual orientation or gender.
nViolence: against people (threats, assault, terrorism, murder); against property (arson and desecration or violating the sanctity of a house of worship or a cemetery).
nGenocide (the top level of the pyramid), which is the deliberate, systematic extermination of an entire people.
Genocide doesn’t just happen overnight; it starts with prejudiced attitudes and builds, Fuller said.
She ended the program by challenging students to do the following: Learn about their own cultural group and other cultural groups Listen to other people’s opinions and points of view on topics, even when they differ from the students’ own.
Others included: "Don’t make assumptions about people. Don’t make fun of people because of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, clothes, body size/shape, physical or mental ability. Don’t spread rumors. Don’t allow others around you to treat others unfairly."
After the sixth-grade assembly, student Sierra Farmer said she learned that diversity involves people doing different things and acting differently, and she learned about respecting others.
Assistant Principal Emily Roop stated: "Grant funding has afforded us the opportunity to bring Dr. Fuller to speak at Laurel Park Middle School. Our goal with school-wide diversity training is to foster and understand that respect is universal and that appreciating diversity will prepare students for college and career. Today Dr. Fuller delivered a powerful message to each grade level that shared with our students the importance of embracing diversity."
Fuller, of Charlotte, is 1991 graduate of Laurel Park High School. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English and M.Ed. degree in curriculum and instruction from George Mason University and a doctorate in elementary education from the University of Virginia. She was an elementary and middle school teacher in Fairfax County, held several positions at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and now is director of the Teaching Fellows Program and an assistant professor at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C.
"I’m from Axton.… I want them to see someone from here," Fuller said of students at Laurel Park.