Hundreds of high school and middle school students from throughout the Capital Region gathered inside Siena College’s Sarazen Student Union for the annual STOP Conference. STOP stands for Students Together Opposing Prejudice and during the workshop, students talked about ways to fight discrimination and promote tolerance.
“It’s really hard to try and speak up, but you’ve got to or else it’s never ever going to stop,” said Gloversville High School junior Kellie Lawton.
“We recognize the power of rhetoric, the power of words,” said Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs Peter Ellard. “When the students that are here go back to their high schools, we want them to be aware that what they say and what they hear matters.”
Along with tackling age-old problems of prejudice and bullying, the students discussed the prevalence of cyber-bullying and even addressed the tragic shooting in Tucson, Arizona which left six people dead and 13 others, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, injured.
“I know if we were all united, not so many people would feel lost like we do for most of our lives. It would really help a lot of issues. And maybe there would be less issues like in Arizona,” said Gloversville High School freshman Kristin Sweet.
“Everybody’s unique differences make the country strong, make individuals strong and enable folks to work with one another better,” said Anti-Defamation League Facilitator Eric Eisenstein.
Eisenstein and other facilitators from the ADL’ s A World of Difference Institute guided group discussions that helped students open up about the problems they’re facing and find ways to address them.
“A lot of people really started talking towards the end of it. And it really started to get into more personal stuff, which I think really helped it click. Like you were able to identify yourself with that, or identify someone else that is having the same problem and I think that definitely made it more real,” said Gloversville High School junior Elaina Galea.
“You don’t have to separate yourself as a jock or a prep or a nerdy kid. You can have different varieties of people in one group and have everybody together,” said Gloversville High School student Marcus Schwed.
The STOP Conference is followed by an art and essay celebration aimed at helping younger students understand Dr. King’s message. This year’s theme of “Civil rights and the red, white, blue and green: What would Martin Luther King do to heal the earth?” generated hundreds of colorful and insightful works of art.
It is held each year as part of Siena’s Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King Lecture Series on Race and Nonviolent Social Change. For more information visit, www.siena.edu/mlk.