April 26, 2006
A group of University of Virginia students are pushing to ease stereotypes with what they're calling "De-Stereotype Day." They are opening dialogue and challenging anyone and everyone to erase any preconceived notions they may have about those who are different from them, and they are doing it all with a marker and a T-shirt.
Organizers gave out 1,000 T-shirts that read, "STEREOTYPE ME” for students to wear. On the back of the shirts students wrote facts about themselves that others might not have known.
When students were asked to recite some of these facts, there were a vary of responses:
"I am not Chinese."
"I was the Vice-President of a Black Pre-Med Society."
"I like Country Music."
"Sustained Dialogue" is a student organization that's pushing for social change. This year the group decided to address stereotypes by wearing the T-shirts.
"You can't look at somebody and think that you know their life story, think you know where they're from," said event Co-Organizer Naseem Alabian.
They say wearing the shirts has opened doors for discussion while forming dialogue with different communities on grounds.
"Hopefully this shows a lot of groups how realistic it is, and it's almost our responsibility to actually put projects into action that change the environment that we're in," said another event co-organizer.
"It's starting the dialogue, but there's definitely a long ways to go," added another student.
Bill Harvey is Vice President and Chief Officer for Diversity and Equity at UVA. He says that stereotypes get perpetuated when people don't talk about them in a way that you can challenge the stereotype.
"When you have a circumstance when somebody can say no I don't think that's true - and give you some reasons why, they you begin to rethink your preconceptions and your misconceptions about people," said Harvey.
Continuing reciting random facts, student responses were:
"I am not illegal."
"I am Nigerian, and I do not live with undomesticated animals."
Students participating in "De-Stereotype Day" said they don't expect change to happen overnight. They just hope more people will become willing to discuss differences.
"The least, I feel like today's even... really bridged a lot of different communities on campus," continued one organizer.
Organizers of the event said that everything went as planned. They said that several students were able to talk about these differences inside their classrooms today. Event organizers also said that they're hoping to make "De-Stereotype Day" an annual event.