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Quaker Valley student-led campaign tackles anti-gay, racial slurs

| Monday, Feb. 19, 2018, 11:00 p.m.
Quaker Valley High School
Quaker Valley High School

Lydia Callaghan has heard all of the Asian stereotypes from her peers over the years: “Oh, they are yellow and squint a lot.”

She's heard it so much that she's gotten used to it. But that doesn't make it OK. And it's not funny.

Members of the Cultural Alliance group at Quaker Valley High School, focused on promoting a more accepting and inclusive school climate, want their peers to know there are some things that are not OK to say.

The group, formed in November, during the changing political climate across the United States by two Quaker Valley seniors who wanted a safe place to talk about issues of culture and race, now is looking to take action.

Through a campaign — called “What's Okay to Say?” — the Cultural Alliance plans to start a dialogue with teachers and students about what's being said in the hallways and classrooms and how those remarks should be addressed.

“It's what people say about a type of race or a type of culture and how they make fun of it or they say something completely incorrect,” said Paige Hall, 17, a senior.

The group is planning two approaches for the campaign: meetings with teachers to talk with them about how they can handle situations where a student makes a racial or sexist remark; and posters and videos for the school to educate students on what they should be saying, versus what they are.

The planning for this still is in the works, school counselor Amy Keller said.

The hope is that this will raise awareness for what is being said and change the dialogue, Keller said.

Members of the group said the moment when a student says something inappropriate can be awkward. Keller pointed out that teachers likely don't know what to say in that instance.

The goal is to address it, quickly, acknowledge that what is said is not OK, then move on, she said. The middle of an academic class isn't necessarily the place to have a large discussion because a student said something inappropriate, Keller said.

“We hope to open up a dialogue,” Keller said.

Students talked about times in class when they were watching videos and classmates made fun of people's accents or muttered remarks about people's religion. It's not commonplace, but it does happen, they said.

“I've seen a lot of kids saying, ‘Oh, that's gay,'” said Callaghan, 14, a freshman. “There are kids who you go to school with who are gay. I don't think that's OK for kids to say.”

Through posters and videos, students will address the issue with their peers.

“The hope is to kind of visualize things, in a sense. Showing, this is what it looks like. You need to know what it looks like to fix it,” said Zahra Udaipurwala, 15, a freshman.

“It's about people not being ignorant and making assumptions,” said Emma Parker, 14, a freshman.

Saying inappropriate things has become “cool,” said Mackenzie Harrison, 17, a senior.

“People think it's cool or hip to be a jerk,” she said. “No, it's not. We all think it's cooler to be nice.”

Keller said the conversations happening at Quaker Valley likely are happening at every school across the country, given the political climate.

“It's just (that) we live in a world where these things are more acceptable, or people think they're acceptable, so they're not being mindful ... of the things they say,” she said.

Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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