LYNCHBURG, Va. – In a classroom on Randolph College’s campus, middle school students from different schools in the Lynchburg region discussed how to identify prejudice and bullying.
One thing some of them can agree on is they’ve experienced some form of bullying.
“Not very harshly, but I’ve been called names,” Aaron Dendy, a seventh-grader at Linkhorne Middle School, said.
“People talk about my ears and how I’m short and I just, I ignore it,” Tre Kelso, a seventh-grader at Appomattox Middle School, said.
These students' experiences are one of the reasons why organizers with Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities want to help break the cycle.
And it’s the first time the group has brought the program to the Hill City.
“We’ve seen a 1,300% increase in requests from schools after incidents of bias over the past three years and that’s a big jump,” Jessica Hawthorne, director of programs for the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities, said.
To help the preteens understand prejudice, students were told it could eventually become a life-threatening act. Organizers say the deadly Charlottesville rally in 2017 is an example of that.
“Our job today is to link those things. So, if I have a hurtful stereotype, how does that then lead to something? Or, somebody feels like the only choice they have is to threaten someone else’s life because of who they are,” Hawthorne said.
Organizers say the ultimate goal is to have the students leave with an understanding that they need to be better and lead by example.
“I just want to make sure the people at my school know that before you try to judge someone. They could potentially commit self-harm to their self or others,” Jada Smith, a seventh-grader at William and Campbell Combined School, said.