The speakers, who were invited by SPARK faculty adviser Angel Colon and selected by a panel of students and teachers, visited from Monday, February 14 to Friday, February 18 in Lecture Hall A. Their presentations for Respect for All Week, formerly knows as Diversity Week, focused on the issue of bullying based on sexuality, race, and academic competitiveness.
“Last year, [Respect for All Week] wasn’t something that was promoted in advance, so we didn’t have a lot of time to prepare,” Colon said. “This year, we had an option of guest speakers, and the student population was interested in hearing speakers from every different part of the community.”
Dr. Randi Herman, Vice President of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators and co-founder of the Respect for All initiative, spoke on Monday about the program’s agenda. “It’s not just the week that’s important, it’s the concept of respect for others and yourself. The week just illustrates the how to’s of respect and how-not-to’s of bullying,” she said.
She showed the 2003 documentary “Let’s Get Real,” which contained testimonies from bullied middle and high school students, as well as interviews with the bullies themselves. “Bullies are made, not born, and there are effective ways to deal with them,” Herman said. “I’m hoping that students will consider advocating for the victim of bullying, rather than doing nothing or just walking away.”
Tuesday’s presentation, with representatives from the Live Out Loud and Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) in attendance, focused on the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community. This assembly had the largest turnout, with over 200 students attending. The presentation also included a No Name-Calling portion, in an attempt to combat negative terminology and stigma associated with the LGBT community. Ryan Carlino, Community Initiatives Public Ally of GLSEN, provided statistics from the organization’s National School Climate Survey and encouraged students to discuss their experiences with bullying.
Sophomore and Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Spectrum (GLASS) member Stanley Chang said, “A lot of the GLASS members noticed that some of the students in the audience were the bullies in our school, and I specifically recognized my bully. Now that those students have been exposed to the issue, they are more aware of what they’re doing and how their words can affect people in negative ways.”
Guidance counselor Meredith Negrin said, “People seemed very engaged and interested in what the speakers had to say. Their presentation especially resonated with me because I had just dealt with a few cases of cyber bullying, and it’s good to know that something is being done about it.”
“I gave the students some practical strategies they can employ for confronting LGBT bullying to make Stuyvesant respectful and inclusive of all students, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression,” Carlino said. “I hope students learned more about the prevalence of anti-LGBT bullying and will utilize some of the tips I provided.”
The topic of Thursday’s presentation was social respect and diversity. Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Deborah Dowling, who spoke during Respect for All Week last year, presented a history of court cases that resulted from racial differences and encouraged students to respect each other regardless of background or cultural differences.
“The line between what is appropriate and inappropriate often gets blurred because as young people, what you may think is just a joke may invade someone’s personal space or human rights,” Dowling said. “It’s easy to engage in racial stereotypes when you have no experience with a person’s culture.”
Executive Director of Blacks and Jews in Conversation Shannon Taylor also addressed racial stereotypes with the help of professional stand-up comedian Larry Shaw.
“[The presentation] was meant to curb hostility and misunderstandings, because many people don’t realize that what they say is hurtful and that they can be targets of these stereotypes themselves, somewhere down the road,” Taylor said. “I asked students if they liked humor that was funny or insulting, communication that was sensitive or joking, because whatever form they give, they will get.”
“Jokes that most people would find funny and may seem harmless actually do cause harm,” junior Swara Saraiya said. “I learned to be more careful with what I say, because a simple remark that everyone thinks is funny may still perpetuate and fuel racism.”
Phuong Nguyen, Stuyvesant’s mental health counselor and a social worker from the Youth Counseling League, discussed the differences between healthy and unhealthy competition during Friday’s presentation. “It’s no secret that Stuyvesant is a competitive environment, and it appears to affect most students in a daily, if not moment to moment, basis when so much of student time and energy is focused on test scores and grades,” Nguyen said. “Students need to make sure they develop a well rounded life so that if they are having difficulty in one area, they don’t feel like it’s the end of the world.”
The guest speakers hope that the discourse fostered by Respect for All Week will improve students’ lives. “The only way to really change is through dialogue,” Dowling said. “[Respect for All] plants the seed and lays the foundation, so people can be more perceptive of the outcome of their actions if they are confronted with these kinds of situations. It will certainly have an impact in the future.”
Students and faculty plan to expand the program to make a greater impact on the Stuyvesant community. “Next year, there should be more stakeholders, as far as more students, teachers, and clubs that can do things during or after school,” Negrin said. “That way, many people can reap the benefits of Respect for All.”
In this vein, Colon hopes to better Respect for All Week for next year. “Respect for all is every day,” Colon said. “With more school involvement, open-mindedness and awareness, we will hope to see improvements and break down the negative anti-social behaviors that contribute to discrimination.”