Students cross social boundaries during Mix It Up at Lunch Day

Oct. 31 is typically a day students associate with ghosts, goblins and candy, but at thousands of schools across the country – and around the world – today, Halloween will also be an opportunity for students to step out of their cliques and get to know someone new as part of the 16th National Mix It Up at Lunch Day – an annual school event sponsored by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance project.

During Mix It Up at Lunch Day, students are asked to sit with someone new in the cafeteria. Since its inception, educators have used the event to help foster welcoming school environments for all students.

“Mix It Up at Lunch Day teaches an important lesson to students: Cliques and labels are not the way to learn about people,” said Monita Bell, Teaching Tolerance’s Mix It Up coordinator. “When students meet and see how much they have in common, it helps them to see each other as individuals rather than as only members of a group.”

The experience can also help students better understand and respect classmates with different backgrounds and perspectives.

“Breaking down social barriers can go a long way toward ensuring a school is welcoming for all students,” said Teaching Tolerance Director Maureen Costello. “When students have positive interactions with classmates from different backgrounds, it can help reduce stereotypes, prejudice and bullying.”

Cafeterias are the focus of the program because that’s where a school’s social boundaries are most obvious. Many schools, however, plan similar activities outside the lunchroom. Each school sets its own agenda, makes its own plans and chooses its own theme. Although today is the national date, some schools participate throughout the year or use Mix It Up at Lunch Day to kick off yearlong explorations of social divisions.

Today’s school events can be followed at the Mix It Up at Lunch Day Facebook page, tolerance.org and on Twitter with #MixLunch.