Over 50 speakers from around Connecticut gathered on Wednesday, May 1 to give presentations at Middletown High School (MHS) for its annual Diversity Week. Fifteen of the speakers were affiliated with the University. Most of them visited the high school as representatives of University clubs that promote diversity, such as Shining Hope For Communities (SHOFCO), AIDS Sexual Health Awareness (ASHA), and Active Minds.
MHS social studies teacher and organizer of the event Trevor Charles has been satisfied with the development of the event since its creation.
“I’m also the advisor of the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), and five or six years ago we started doing Diversity Week stuff focused specifically on sexual orientation issues and it has just grown and grown every year,” Charles said. “This is the biggest year we’ve ever had with 51 speakers and every single kid and staff member having an opportunity to see a speaker from all sorts of diverse backgrounds.”
Speakers came from all over the state to discuss diversity issues with the high school students. Each student chose a seminar to attend; seminars were capped at 25 students.
“We create a program list of bios and topic descriptions for each of the different speakers, and then the students read through that entire list, and they pick their top three choices of what they’d like to see,” Charles said. “Sometimes kids put down fourth and fifth choices and then we do our best to try and facilitate those choices.”
One of the many of the speakers from the University was Korean Students Association (KSA) Treasurer Janet Cushey ’13, who gave a presentation about Korean culture.
“Basically I had a PowerPoint and some handouts about the alphabet in Korea and I lectured on the history in general, art, music, [about] Korean-wave film, and the transition of traditional music to modern music because I’m really interested in that,” Cushey said. “And then I gave them snacks at the end.”
Other students came to the high school independent of a University group to share their knowledge with the high school students.
“I talked about zines,” said Isabelle Gauthier ’14. “I brought in some examples to show them and then talked about what a zine was and why self-publishing is important. And then they made their own zines, and it was really awesome. Most people didn’t know what a zine was before. A zine can stand for anything, and it’s like a self-published book, using paper to make [a book] about your own stories.”
Charles explained that seminars covered as many topics as possible to try to appeal to the students and generate interest in diversity.
“We have [seminars about the] handicapped, elderly, race issues, different ethnicities, sexual orientation, infertility, bullying—it just goes on and on,” Charles said. “We just have so many different options for kids to choose from. I had a lot of help from Michael [Leung ’15], who, as a part of our GSA partnership with Wesleyan, helped me tap the Wesleyan resources, which has been fantastic.”
Additionally, several University administrators attended. Associate Director of Operations at Usdan University Center Joanne Rafferty gave a presentation titled “What Role Do You Play?” During the seminar, she taught students the meaning of the terms “target,” “perpetrator,” “bystander,” and “ally.” She asked students to look at the roles they play in the creation and perpetuation of prejudice.
“I’m the Associate Director of the Usdan Center and I oversee the operations of the building, but outside of my time at Wesleyan I’m actually a facilitator for the World of Difference Institute, which is part of the Anti-Defamation League,” Rafferty said. “I’m sharing about some of my personal experiences, but I’m also [trying to] promote Wes so that Middletown knows that Wesleyan supports efforts in the community.”
While overall the program was a success, MHS advanced placement (AP) teachers expressed their discontent with the timing of Diversity Week. The AP tests will run from May 6 to May 17 this year, and teachers complained that Diversity Week occurred too close to the start of exams.
While many students were interested in the day’s events, some students did not appear fully engaged, which required additional effort on behalf of the presenters.
“At first it was a little hard to get their attention because I think a few of them didn’t really want to be there, but as I went through I tried to relate to them a little bit,” Cushey said. “I talked about my personal experience to make it more relevant. They started getting into it and they seemed to really like it.”