Siena College honored the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. by welcoming hundreds of Capital Region middle and high school students to campus for the annual STOP Conference. STOP stands for Students Together Opposing Prejudice.
Students from 18 school districts, including city, suburban and rural schools participated in small group discussions, workshops and activities run by the Anti-Defamation League’s A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Institute. Throughout the day, Students worked closely with trained ADL facilitators to develop ways to promote tolerance and extinguish bullying, cyber-bullying, gang violence and discrimination in their schools. School counselors and teachers also took part in their own workshops where they gained the tools needed to successfully address these issues.
“This event affords us the opportunity to try to shape attitudes before they crystalize,” said Etzion Neuer, Director of Community Service & Policy for the Anti-Defamation League’s New York office.“As bigotry is learned, we also believe it can be unlearned. The STOP Conference can motivate students to take action against prejudice and bigotry in their schools and communities. If even one child holds back the joke that he or she was going to make or if one student intervenes when another is being bullied, we've made a difference.”
The STOP Conference is sponsored by Siena College’s Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King Lecture Series. Organizers said the conference sends students and faculty members back to their schools as knowledgeable allies for people in need.
“The STOP Conference is unlike any other event in the Capital District,” said Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs Peter Ellard, Ph.D. “We bring student together from a wide variety of schools to discuss these issues. A lot has changed for the better since the days of Dr. King, but it is important to remember that bias and prejudice are still problems in our society. It is part of Siena’s mission to do what we can to decrease these emotions and continue fulfilling King’s dream.”
Participants said that they learned how important it is to take a stand against bullying in all forms and treat people with respect.
"You understand that calling people names is more than what I thought it was," said Schoharie Central 8th Grader Cody Cooper. "It can really hurt people."
Students learned about problems facing their peers in other districts. As they shared stories and discussed difficult situations, many realized that issues with tolerance and acceptance are everywhere. "There is a lot of discrimination in this world. I think it's good to have programs like this to bring it to students' attention," said Ravena Coeymans Selkirk High School Junior Latavyah Forte, who is a member of her school's diversity club.
Along with the STOP Conference, Siena College hosted a reception and celebration of student achievement featuring original art and writing about the theme, “Celebrating Local Leaders: Courage and Commitment in the Spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” The drawings, paintings, essays and poetry of more than 350 students from Capital Region schools transformed the Sarazen Student Union's Maloney Great Room into a colorful, student-centered art gallery.