Connect with Kids : Weekly News Stories : “The Big Lunch Mix-Up”

The Big Lunch Mix-Up

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Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010 | CWK Producer

“We’re going to have to know how to work together…because we’re going to be so diverse, there’s going to be no choice.”

– Pamela Perry, Ph.D, professor of Community Studies

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While it can happen any day of the year, the 2010 national Mix It Up at Lunch Day is Tuesday, November 9. Millions of students at schools across the country will be asked to stretch their tastes … in friends and sit with someone from a different group, clique, race or ethnicity.

This challenge to social boundaries is part of the annual “Mix It Up At Lunch Day,” sponsored by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The organizers hope that many of the prejudices and biases kids are brought up with will fall away when they meet new people.

That was the case for 17-year-old Marisol. In the past, there had been small race riots at her school, when the students there “were mad and yelling and…. throwing bottles.”

So the school started a program to help students talk through the racial tension. That’s how Marisol met a white girl named Harmony. At first, both girls were suspicious.

“From the first time I met her,” says Harmony, “she wasn’t that open to getting to know me.”

But, says Marisol, “we just started talking, like, [and] from there…. it was like, ‘maybe she’s not as bad as she looks.'”

And one day, Marisol asked Harmony to eat lunch in the Mexican part of the school courtyard.

“At first I was like, no,” remembers Harmony. “I don’t want to go over there. And she’s like, ‘just come on, come on, do it, it’s fine’. I was like, ‘okay.'”

At first, Marisol’s friends were angry: “They would just say like ‘oh, she’s snobby. Like she doesn’t like us. Like she thinks she’s better than us’. But it’s like, ‘no, she doesn’t think she’s better than you.'”

The “Mix It Up At Lunch Day” encourages kids to not sit at their usual lunch table.

“There’s like all African-Americans at one table, Hispanics at one table, Vietnamese, you know, Asians at one table,” student Yodit says of her school lunchroom.

Experts say being successful in life means learning how to interact with all types of people.

“The United States itself is growing very diverse – such that in about 50 years, whites will become a minority nationwide, says Pamela Perry, Ph.D, a professor of Community Studies at U.C. Santa Cruz. “We’re going to have to know how to work together…because we’re going to be so diverse, there’s going to be no choice.”

For Marisol, it took a few days – but then her friends started to accept Harmony.

“[When] they got to know her, they were like, ‘okay, maybe she’s not so snobby,'” she says. ” And maybe white people in general aren’t snobby…they could actually, you know, be cool – and we could actually have things in common.”

What We Need To Know

Experts agree: Students thrive—socially and academically—in schools that are inclusive. Yet, a look at recent headlines about bullying, cyberbullying and a lack of civility and empathy confirms that for too many students, schools are hotbeds of exclusion..

It is important for parents and educators to teach and model behavior that demonstrates having an open mind — to see each person as an individual, and to not attribute the actions or opinions of a few people to an entire race, religion or group. Encourage children to talk with people who are different from them. Challenge acts of discrimination you may witness, and call attention to prejudices in the things your children or others may say.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, it is important to promote diversity and acceptance in our everyday activities and conversation. We must prepare ourselves to respond to acts of bias, even if they are unintentional. Children will carefully observe how the adults in their lives intervene when someone is the target of hurtful or discriminatory behavior. Silence in the face of injustice conveys the impression that adults condone the behavior or consider it not worthy of attention. We must make it clear to our children that name-calling will not be tolerated and explain the thinking behind “zero tolerance” when it comes to prejudice.

Be aware of your own attitudes and demonstrate a respect for others. Try and answer children’s questions about differences among people with honesty; this will let them know it’s okay to notice and discuss those differences, as long as it’s done with respect. And remember that tolerance doesn’t mean tolerating unacceptable behavior; it means that everyone deserves to be treated with respect, and to treat others respectfully as well.

Help children understand that words can be weapons – and hateful words, if left unchallenged, can escalate conflicts. Even young kids can learn to say, “Don’t call her that; that’s not her name!” or “Don’t call him that; she doesn’t like that!” or “Don’t call me that; it’s not fair!” Also, teach your child to seek the assistance of an adult if someone is being harassed or bullied.

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