Students at The Archer School for Girls in Brentwood arrived Wednesday with open minds to learn about society's differences and, as they have done annually now for four years, debunked all stereotypes during Diversity Day.
With more than 13 classroom sessions led by students, faculty and outside professionals tackling a wide range of subjects, discussions went far beyond the approach schools take to address sensitive issues about diversity, when heading into February, traditionally known as Black History Month.
Some issues covered throughout the day included talks from former gang members re-entering into society, the falsehoods and medical conditions associated with dwarfism, how the media portrays women, one Holocaust survivor's story of hope and survival, understanding autism, educating how to respect those who identify with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender spectrum, addressing the misunderstandings of religious identities and much more. Keeping the impact of Diversity Day to just one day isn't the message either.
"From there, we are able to, through the course of the year ... we can take the tensiles of conversation and pull them even deeper," said Karen Pavliscak, middle school director. "We're all learners today, and what we've learned is that these are issues of merit."
The school heard a keynote address from Jess Weiner, an expert on women, girls and confidence. Her company, Talk To Jess, uses storytelling for social change, specializing in helping brands cultivate positive media and marketing messages targeted toward women and girls. The school also watched the documentary "Happy," which takes viewers on a journey from the swamps of Louisiana to the slums of Kolkata in search of what really makes people happy.
Speakers from Homeboy Industries, an L.A.-based non-profit serving at risk and gang-involved youth, told Archer students gave harrowing personal accounts of growing up on the streets, selling drugs and commiting crime to put food on their families' tables. When they went to prison, it breaks down from being about gangs to strictly racial. Speakers then talked about the struggles of finding a job after prison, not contibuting to the recidivism rate and how Homeboy Industries helped them.
Seniors Remington Bennett and Stephanie Bustillo, co-presidents of Archer's Diversity Committee, led the session "The Ideal Woman: The Portrayal of Women in the Media." For the session attended by Patch, the students narrowed the focus to the portrayal of women in the music industry.
"What choices can we make to be our best selves without being influenced by the media?" Bennett asked the class.
They showed the class a music video from the singer Pink called "Stupid Girls," which addresses how women are scrutinized by their looks, behavior and so-called duties.
"The video satirizes people's choices, like the ditzy driver," said one student.
After the session, Bennett and Bustillo related to Weiner's talk earlier in the day, saying girls have a desparate need to feel perfect.
"There's no such thing as ideal," Remington said. "Girls can forget that there's not one version of what you should be.
The two students have attended the annual Diversity Leadership Conference for the National Association of Independent Schools. Bustillo called it "life changing" and brought back a lot of information to share with Archer.
At the conference, the students were split up into groups for discussions, and the two Archer students were amazed at the confidence shown by so many other students around the country going through problems. Bennett was brought to a class with more than 200 African-American students.
"I never felt that connection," she said, having grown up on the Westside.
The two hope to continue boosting Archer's Diversity Committee with ideas for future discussions, beyond their last two years of approaching the portrayal of women in the media.