Students Talk About Race This Fall

Sept. 16, 2009

Hoover Zariani, director of the Center for Student Involvement, helps students learn how to facilitate the STAR Program. (Photo by Allan Beglarian)

In the fall of 2008 a Hispanic population dominated Ms. Loretta Mayer’s class at Washington Irving Middle School. At the time, the young teenagers in this virtually homogeneous group were far from aware of the harsh realities of racism that face much of the world today. These students had Hispanic family members, Hispanic classmates, and Hispanic friends.

So what was it about racism they had to be concerned about?

Ms. Mayer’s students initially couldn’t care less when two Glendale College students volunteered to visit their classroom for eight weeks. To the class it hardly mattered that college students were going to talk about societal problems; all that mattered was that they wouldn’t have to sit through another class period with Ms. Mayer.

The process was gradual, but by the end of the eight weeks Ms. Mayer’s students had become more cognizant of critical societal problems. They realized that they too were affected by and guilty of acts of racism, sexism, and stereotyping.

Without the Students Talk About Race program, countless students like those in Ms. Mayer’s classroom would not possess the knowledge they have about societal issues facing the world today.

Established in 1990, STAR began as a project of the People for the American Way, a nonprofit organization that “promotes tolerance and respect for diversity and respect for constitutional rights, especially the freedom of expression.” The project was introduced in California in 1992, and implemented at GCC in 1996.

GCC’s STAR chapter is currently sponsored by the Associated Students of Glendale Community College.

The STAR program seeks to provide a place for students to share experiences and thoughts, and to improve civic participation. It also seeks to help students identify and handle the social effects of racism, become tolerant of and accept different people, and improve cross-cultured communication skills.

At GCC the program is hosted by the Center for Student Involvement. It runs for eight weeks and takes place during the fall and spring semesters. STAR involves college student volunteers facilitating discussions with middle and high school students throughout various schools in the Glendale area.

GCC students are divided into groups of two to three, and each group devotes one hour a week to hosting discussions and interactive activities as outlined by the STAR handbook. Discussions range from less personal topics, such as stereotyping, to more personal ones, such as racism and homophobia.

Overall GCC’s STAR chapter has received positive reviews not only from the high school students who benefit from it, but also from GCC students.

Marian Mikhail, 18,enthusiastically shared her positive experience at Marshall High School. “It was fun and exciting to see the students participating and engaging in the lesson,” she said of the first week.

The STAR handbook outlines the first lesson to cover stereotyping. During this lesson the middle or high school class is asked to determine the intangible aspects of their facilitators based solely on appearance, such as race and favorite things.

“I’m Egyptian,” Mikhail explained, “and that’s not something they usually would assume because there aren’t many Egyptians in Southern California. They thought I was either Persian, Mexican. Someone said half black half white.”

Mikhail also explained that the wide racial diversity of her class at Marshall High School contributed to the success of the students’ understanding of the program.

“It was very diverse and I think that’s why it was easy for them to understand some of the things that we were saying. They see the prejudice, they see the racism, they see the stereotypes.”

Though she enjoyed facilitating the program, Mikhail also encountered challenges while facilitating STAR. Among her group of students at Marshall High School included three who were blind. This made it crucial for her to communicate precisely.

“When we went there I had to make sure that whatever I was saying was clear. I always had to make sure they understood what I was saying.”

GCC psychology major Sally Morgan, another STAR veteran, developed such a fondness for the program that she has already participated in it twice. She also intends to take part again this fall.

Morgan described her first experience as a positive one. However, the second time she participated in the program was not her favorite experience. This negative session took place at Hoover High School.

“Half of them wouldn’t pay attention. They wouldn’t do the activities that we asked them to do. I literally had to beg for them to give us answers,” she said. “There were only five students that would raise their hands. But other than those five no one else would participate.”

Like Morgan, sophomore Inessa Ranchpar participated twice in the program where she had two opposite experiences.

She first volunteered at Marshall High School where she felt the students were good.
“They listened to me and actually understood everything,” Ranchpar said. “They learned a lot. I felt like every week I went they were learning.”

The second time around Ranchpar participated at Eagle Rock High School.

“They never understood what the [program] was for. They just didn’t understand the lessons.”

Ranchpar also noted that her second group of students were ruder than her first.

In spite of the ups and downs of facilitating STAR, Mikhail, Morgan, and Ranchpar all agree that the gains outweigh the negative aspects of the program. All three also remain enthusiastic about participating in STAR.

“I think the fact that I can really deliver a really important message to these students, that really gives me a good feeling and makes me want to keep doing it,” Morgan said.

“You’re not only teaching, you’re learning too,” Ranchpar said.

High school students and teachers also reacted positively to the program.

“If I see someone getting picked on because of his or her race, I will try to stop it. I’ve learned how to respect people and not judge them by the way they look. I really liked the program because I think that it’s important for, especially teenagers, to know not to make fun of people’s race or the way they look,” one high school participant said.

“The program was much needed and had a strong impact on the kids. For some kids, a seed was planted. For others, they seemed thoughtful about the content. The students looked forward to the next visit,” a teacher at Glendale High School said.

While students may receive extra credit in certain classes for participation in the program, they may also participate for their own benefit.

Ranchpar said that she initially participated in the program for extra credit, but that she voluntarily participated in it her second time.

Director of the Center for Student Involvement Hoover Zariani, noted that, “This past year was the first year that the majority [of students] have been just doing it for themselves.”

Students interested in participating in STAR can find out more information by contacting the Center for Student Involvement, located at the Sierra Madre Building in Room 267. Students may also contact the Center for Student Involvement via phone at (818) 240-1000, ext. 5580 or via email at csi@glendale.edu.

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