Unity Day theme encourages students to embrace diversity, open up about adversity, emotions

For ASB Culture Commissioners Yarah Feteih (11), Antonio Garcias (10), and Nava Mavandadi (9), Unity Day isn’t only about encouraging students to open up about adversity, but also encouraging them to keep an open mind about diversity.

This year’s theme for Unity Day was Breaking Barriers and the ASB Culture Committee said they were determined to do just that—break through the barriers dividing our campus. All three commissioners were prepared to plan this year’s Unity Day when their ASB class attended the annual No Place for Hate Conference, Oct. 30 at the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center.

Garcias said he felt inspired by the activities he saw at the conference, and hoped to integrate the central concepts behind them into Unity Day.

“At the conference, we did something called the ‘Lemon Activity,’” he said. “Each person would take a different lemon and make up a story about its background. Even though they were all the same, all yellow and round, everyone came up with different and unique stories about them. If we can see objects as unique and different but still of equal value, we should be able to do that with people too.”

The commissioners said they hope they inspire the sophomores to appreciate the diversity in their community. To achieve this goal, the Culture Committee brainstormed how to get students engaged and encourage them to open up about their own issues, while simultaneously educating them about the importance of diversity and cultural tolerance.

One activity that Mavandadi came up with was called the Biography Activity, similar to the Lemon Activity.

“What we did [at Unity Day] was we had photos of different people on the front of a sheet and had people guess who they are and where they’re from and things like that,” she said. “Then on the back we would have their real biography, and they can compare what they thought at first with the person’s real life. It would teach people about how they perceive others off just how they look.”

Feteih said she hopes the one thing sophomores took away from this year’s Unity Day was to look at diversity in a new light.

“The philosophy of this whole thing is that your cultural identity is only a part of who you are,” she said. “It does not define you as a person.”

After they had finished planning the activities, the committee had to select the Unity Day facilitators from upperclassmen who chose to apply. Out of 65 applicants, 52 were chosen.

“When we are selecting people, we watch out for red flags like aggressiveness and people who don’t really care,” Garcias said. “We look for the kinder and gentler people who are thorough in their application. Those kinds of people can get the students to actually get engaged and care.”

One of the chosen upperclassmen was Melissa Zaleta (11), whose own Unity Day experience inspired her to become a facilitator.

“I was too scared to share [at Unity Day] and I don’t want anyone to feel like I did, too scared to say something and speak up,” she said. “I want to let them know it’s good to share and not hide their problems hold things in. I’ve personally gone through a lot, and I’m not ashamed of what I go through, and I don’t want anyone else to be either.”

After the facilitators were chosen, they trained for three hours, Sunday. Many shared their own stories.

“At the training, I loved the beginning when people got up and shared,” she said. “Everyone was so supportive and they were stories you wouldn’t expect from those people. This is really the whole point of Unity Day, showing that everyone struggles with big things, regardless of how they act or dress or who they hang out with at school.”

On Monday and Tuesday, Zaleta and her fellow facilitators used the skills they had been taught to engage the students, and hopefully taught them compassion and  tolerance along the way.