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Trustbuilding in the Classroom: Discrimination

Trustbuilding in the Classroom: Discrimination

Tuesday, 5. November 2019

 

By Maylis Guillou-Kérédan

The aim of the Trustbuilding project in France is to reconcile youth that are tempted to break away from society. Taking place in schools, 10 short weekly workshops are given in where young people can express their frustrations in order to overcome negative prejudices. Youth are trained to express themselves and to develop critical thinking skills in order to resist manipulation. At the end of the 10 weeks the young participants are asked to develop a project of public interest. Maylis Guillou-Kérédan, facilitator and communications officer for the Trustbuilding project, shares with us a glimpse into one of the project workshops.

The theme of the 4th workshop session is discrimination. By working with a group of youth extremely affected by the phenomenon, the idea is to help them understand the mechanisms of discrimination, racism, homophobia, and exclusion. We help them realize that we all have the right to be different and to be protected against all forms of discrimination. They are presented with implementable solutions for their daily lives.

Trustbuilding in the Classroom: Discrimination

The workshop starts with a photolanguage activity: on a table a pile of pictures from people of all sizes, shapes, colors, origins, cultures, and activities are spread out. The students are asked to ‘imagine that you are in a train, who don’t you want to be seated next to and why?’ The reasons vary from one child to the next: ‘because he looks weird, because she’s pregnant and might ask me to move all the time in order to go to the bathroom, because she looks like a criminal, because he seems talkative.’On rarer occasions some students don’t pick any picture and simply say that there is no one they wouldn’t want to sit next to.

The activity allows to introduce the concept of prejudice, stereotypes and discrimination. We explain that something as simple as a stereotype can have catastrophic consequences. In order to illustrate how far discrimination can go we take the example of the Holocaust, which started with the stereotype ‘all Jews are rich at the expense of others’ and led to one of the worst genocides in modern history.

With this bigger picture in mind we dive into more personal questions, like ‘Have they been discriminated against? Have they, themselves, discriminated others?’ and ‘Have they witnessed discrimination?’ Some children have a very defensive attitude, objecting that even if they would discriminate against someone they wouldn’t simply say so. But most of the students played along and have been very open about discriminating afgainst others based on their appearance, looks, sexual orientation, or for other reasons. One person even confessed that they’ve been bullying someone and that is had led to a suicide attempt. One student had been the victim of a ritual game that went too far, as he got beaten by other students. We decided to address this issue further and discovered that even something that might seem harmless to them, here a silly ritual, could be related to discrimination because other students who are more ‘tough looking’ have not been victims of violence.

The discussions emerging from the exercises are always insightful about the lives of the students, as it tells us about their worries and their daily struggles. Together with the students we tried to find ways to address discrimination, to fight against it. 

 

When one student said that it was pointless to even try to fight against it because everybody discriminates and that if they try to speak out they could be rejected from their friend group, we tried to make them see that small actions can lead to bigger changes. We acknowledged that it’s a very difficult and brave thing to stand up against it, that changing people their mind-set is not an easy task. We told them that it’s something we’re trying to do together: helping them to find ways to change minds and society.

 

The Trustbuilding Program is aimed at addressing divisive issues at the international and national levels, on the premise that only those who have undergone the internal process of becoming trustworthy themselves can close gaps across the globe. The Program was launched by Initiatives of Change International in 2019 with projects in Kenya, Canada and France.