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MU "hate wall" prompts discussion of stereotypes

Thursday, September 24, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Students said the 183 words and stereotypes they wrote down had hurt them in the past, but the MU "hate wall" event held Wednesday night gave them a chance to defend themselves.

Students and several minority organizations participated, taking the opportunity to talk about stereotyping and how it affects people.

In previous years, the wall was constructed with wood at Speakers Circle, and students could stop and write hateful words on it throughout the day. By the end of the night, the wall would be torn down.

The event wasn't held last year, but organizers felt they should bring it back this year, with a few changes.

“We decided to make it a little more meaningful this year and turn it into a forum,” said Alex Holley, chairwoman of the Multicultural Issues Committee. “I wanted to make it something more than just words on a wall.”

The committee, part of the Missouri Students Association Senate, handed out construction paper to various student organizations that represent minority groups and encouraged them to write offensive words or stereotypes on it. The paper was then placed onto a cardboard box and used to construct the wall at Stotler Lounge in Memorial Union.

“The first goal was to target these organizations, but we also wanted to make sure that individuals outside that scope had an opportunity to get involved as well,” Lakeisha Williams, vice chairwoman of the Multicultural Issues Committee, said.

Students were also invited to come to the event and write hateful words on the wall. Participants had a chance to explain why they had chosen their words and phrases.

After all of the boxes were in place, participants broke into small groups and discussed their own experiences with stereotyping.

Freshman Dana Hildebrandt came to the event as an activity for class but ended up having a really “eye opening” experience.

“It was good to hear other people’s stories, and it was nice to tell mine because a lot of people don’t know that I’m in an interracial relationship, and that’s something I’m proud of,” she said.

Hildebrandt talked about how people in high school would stare at her and her boyfriend when they would go out and ask her if her parents were OK with their relationship.

“I just feel like that’s so disrespectful to my family because they’re just assuming that my family is racist,” she said.

Hildebrandt said she learned from the event that she has even caught herself saying some of the things that were written on the wall.

“It seemed OK to me and obviously it’s not OK to somebody else,” she said.

Freshman Alyssa Mendoza participated in the event as part of the Hispanic American Leadership Organization.

“I’m really glad I came here tonight because it was a phenomenal experience just to see all these diverse groups come together and share their perspectives,” she said.

At the end of the discussion, Williams tore down the wall with a baseball bat.

“It’s a symbol of breaking down the hate and understanding that stereotypes aren’t necessarily the truth,” said Holley.

Holley said overall the event went well and that she was surprised at the turnout of almost 80 participants.

“It was a safe place for people to talk about how they felt and things that have happened to them and what we can do about it now," she said.


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