STUDENTS WORK TOGETHER TO DEVELOP RACISM INITIATIVE FOR LOCAL HIGH SCHOOLS
This past spring, a group of 17 students learned to battle racism together. In several gatherings at Sims Hall, they ate, talked, shared personal stories and perspectives, and worked to break down the barriers of racial tension.
The students, from the School of Social Work, the School of Education, and the Syracuse City School Districts Corcoran and Nottingham high schools, were brought together through a University Vision Fund project called "Eracism," created by social work professor Carrie Jefferson Smith and education professor Mara Sapon-Shevin. The project is modeled after the Community-Wide Dialogue Project on Ending Racism and Healing Race Relations, a local initiative established in fall 1997 that brings together people from different backgrounds to gain a deeper understanding of each others differences. Eracism was designed to use this understanding to develop, implement, and evaluate an anti-racism curriculum for use in local high schools, with the students serving as teachers. "Anti-racism work is some of the most important work in the world," Smith says. "The scourge of racism continues to pervade so many areas of our lives."
Smith and Sapon-Shevin first met through the dialogue project. As trained facilitators and members of the projects Action Committee, they began discussing ways to implement the project and weave it into their teaching and research. Bonnie White, Native American coordinator with the Syracuse City School District, helped them further develop their ideas, and became their link to the city schools. "At the high school level, there is still a tremendous amount of tension between students of different backgrounds," Smith says.
The groups sessions were based on the dialogue programs Community Youth Guide, and included activities aimed at building kinship among group members. One activity involved listing common stereotypes and noting similarities when stereotypes used in reference to one ethnic group were compared to those of a second group. Students kept journals and recorded their thoughts and feelings on issues of race. Their journal entries were then used to facilitate discussions.
The sessions also focused on two interrelated topics: facing racism, and being an ally to people facing racism. "We want the students to feel involved," says Sapon-Shevin. "They want to feel some sense of power over these issues."
This summer, Smith and Sapon-Shevin will work with students to develop anti-racism educational materials. Students will also be trained to lead groups and take the new curriculum into local schools. Next fall, three groups of students will teach anti-racism workshops in Syracuse public high schools, and the project will be documented and evaluated. Eventually, a teaching manual and training video will be produced. "We talk about teaching, research, servicethis is a beautiful synergy of those things," says Sapon-Shevin. "The project has broad implications for both the University community and the Syracuse community."
WENDY S. LOUGHLIN