The contrast was striking: as the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities was training 100+ high school students about how to promote school safety at the 4th annual Peninsula Diversity Dialogue Day, reports came out about one local high school being evacuated because of a bomb threat, and a student at another Hampton Roads school was arrested for making a threat.
And that’s not the only way students at VCIC programs are changing narratives about youth.
A recent post from DiversityInc details an Associated Press – NORC Center for Public Affairs Research – MTV study that found that fewer than “60 percent of teens say it’s wrong to use [racist and sexist] slurs, whether in words or images, even as a joke…”  Respondents identified the most frequent targets of discriminatory language being overweight people, members of the LGBT community, black people, and women.
However, at a recent VCIC Project Inclusion program, students explored the power of words through the Cycle of Prejudice.  They grappled with the personal impact of “verbal dehumanization,” and the resulting consequences ranging from physical violence to life threatening acts.  Action plans developed by student participants aimed to reduce hurtful language and equip their peers and teachers to effectively prevent and respond to hurtful language.
At the end of the program, 100% of participants reported heightened “ability to recognize a stereotypical comment or prejudiced action,” greater “awareness of the hurt and pain some people feel as a result of stereotypical jokes, comments, and actions,” and increased “confidence that I can contribute to making my school a more inclusive community.”
As one VCIC student participant shared with a reporter, “Maybe I should start talking a little bit more… Be an upstander, instead of a bystander.”
That’s the future the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities is empowering our youth to create.

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