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Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Guest Commentary

Guest Column: Houston is a beacon for diversity


Houston has become one of the most diverse cities in America. It is likely that you will be exposed to a variety of races, ethnicities and languages on any given day.

The exposure to these characteristics is valuable to our city. Houston has the potential to be the leading example of how people can embrace diversity, combat discrimination and racism across our nation.

The perfect place to start is in classrooms, where children learn how society is shaped.

It is an ongoing argument by many that discrimination is a learned behavior. In the article, “We Teach Racism, Sexism and Discrimination in Schools,” Nicholas Ferroni states that children’s textbooks could be the cause of that learned behavior. It may not be ideal to toss out the textbooks for more inclusive literature; however, the possibility of students engaging in activities teaching the concepts of acceptance and anti-discrimination exists. Our diverse schools are a reflection of our city and, therefore, serve as a platform of handling the diversity in a positive way.

After speaking to several teachers regarding this topic I found that some have already taken initiatives to incite cultural diversity.

For example, some schools include international holidays in order to teach the importance of equally celebrating the various cultural backgrounds. On the other hand, some schools have hosted world festivals, giving students a chance to share their traditional foods and décor with their classmates. Having students participate in these activities encourages them to be curious about diversity.

Students are also given the chance to express who they are and teach their peers about a side of them they might not normally share. There are plenty of activities that promote this type of learning that are not necessarily expensive nor do they strain the teacher’s curriculum. Simply having students share stories of their cultural traditions can be educational and thought-provoking.

The point is to have activities that inspire students to think about these differences in a way that helps them respect the fact that they exist.

I remember the moments as a student that I felt disconnected from American literature and culture. Because I am Mexican-American, I used to feel that half of who I was did not matter here in America because it was never talked about. Since then, I have had the opportunity to attend a university that takes pride in being recognized for its diverse body of students.

Being part of a campus that supports festivity of differences has played an important part in me feeling capable of exploring my heritage without fear of judgment. That in and of itself has broadened my perspective about other cultures.

I realized that the more I embrace who I am, the more likely I am to embrace the differences of others. That is what I believe leads to anti-racism and anti-discriminating perspectives.

The most important concept of having such a campus is it being a safe space. A student is permitted to explore and question themselves and others without having his or her curiosity shut down. Having this space can also help students deal with issues such as bullying. There may be some racist or discriminatory underlines to the actions of student misbehavior that could also be brought to a teacher’s attention.

Houston schools adopting these types of activities have the possibility of becoming role models. They are capable of showing our nation how to build a more accepting society. So if we believe in a future of equality where racism is not what drives our decisions, then we need to make opportunities for children to learn what constructs a society like that.

Discrimination can be taught, but so can respect, tolerance and acceptance. Just imagine this: We can live in a place where diversity is celebrated, where cultural differences can bring a prosperous future to our cities and to our nation.

Take Houston for example.

Elsa Mendoza is a master’s candidate at the Graduate College of Social Work. She can be reached at [email protected]

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