“If we’re going to imagine a world without hate, then we need to start maybe by imagining a community without hate,” said Anti-Defamation League Facilitator Jack Zaccara during the opening session of Siena College’s 8th Annual STOP Conference.
The acronym “STOP” stands for Students Together Opposing Prejudice. Siena celebrated the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Friday, January 18, by welcoming hundreds of Capital Region middle and high school students to campus for the anti-prejudice conference.
“The STOP Conference is a unique experience in the Capital Region. There is a lot of great work done by community members to bring attention to issues of bias, bullying and prejudice,” said Peter Ellard, Ph.D., associate vice president for academic affairs and chair of the advisory board of the Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King Lecture Series on Race and Nonviolent Social Change. “The STOP Conference builds on this work by bringing together more than 200 middle and high school students to discuss these issues and share their experiences.”
Facilitators from the Anti-Defamation League’s A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Institute led students through both large and small group activities, workshops, discussions and action planning around issues of tolerance and respect. “Part of the theme today was getting them to stand up, to take a stand,” Zaccara said.
School counselors and teachers took part in their own interactive sessions. Students, faculty and administrators were equipped with the tools needed to bring the lessons they learned back to their schools.
“For me, being a victim of bullying, I always go out there and try to make people feel like they’re not alone,” said Cohoes High School student Reid Kisselback.
The day’s message connected with Schenectady High School student Jazze Lewis. “I’m going to have some changes to make with myself first,” Lewis said. “And then I’ll try step-by-step to help my school and help other people change.”
ADL Regional Director Ron Meier said, “The STOP Conference is designed to motivate students in the greater Capital District to serve as models of respect and ambassadors of peace in their schools by combating bias and stereotypes, thus creating a safer and more inclusive school community.”
The conference is sponsored by the King Lecture Series. Organizers hope that, as a result of the workshop, Siena College sends the students, faculty and administrators back to their schools as knowledgeable allies for people in need. “Over the course of the last eight years, conference attendees have made their schools a little bit better because of their experiences here and all of that is contributing to the common good, seeking that peaceable kingdom, as King called it, which is at the heart, I believe, of Siena’s mission,” Ellard said.
After the STOP Conference, Siena’s MLK Lecture Series hosted the 26th Annual Art and Writing Invitational Reception and Celebration. The Sarazen Student Union’s Maloney Great Room turned into a gallery featuring original art and writing from hundreds of Capital Region students. This year’s theme was “Justice! Peace! Equality!”
The celebration continues on April 4 at 7 p.m. at Siena College’s Marcelle Athletic Complex. This year’s speaker is National Book Critics Circle award nominee, Julia Alvarez, author of “In the Time of the Butterflies.”