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Students cross social boundaries, challenge stereotypes on Mix It Up at Lunch Day

While young people across the country are adjusting to colder temperatures and figuring out what kind of costume to wear for Halloween, thousands of students in America are also stepping out of their comfort zones to get to know someone new.

Today marks the 17th National Mix It Up at Lunch Day – an annual school event sponsored by the SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance project.

During Mix It Up at Lunch Day, students are asked to sit with someone new in the cafeteria. Since the event began in 2001, educators have used it to help foster welcoming school environments for all students.

“Now more than ever in today’s politically and culturally divided environment, students need to sit and talk to each other, and see how much they really have in common,” said Jey Ehrenhalt, Teaching Tolerance’s school programs manager and Mix It Up coordinator. “When students of different backgrounds meet in person, they can see each other as individuals instead of members of a group, and this helps them break down barriers.”

The Mix It Up experience helps students appreciate, respect, and understand classmates who have different ideas and perspectives.

“When students of different backgrounds interact with one another face to face, it can help to reduce stereotypes, prejudice and bullying, and counter the ‘us-versus-them’ mentality that our current national political conversation has inspired,” Teaching Tolerance Director Maureen Costello said. “We want students to recognize that cliques, labels and physical appearances don’t tell you everything you need to know about a person. This is an important lesson that every young person should learn as early as possible.”

The focus of the program is on cafeterias because that’s where a school’s social boundaries are most obvious.

Many schools also 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, many 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 pagetolerance.org and on Twitter with #MixLunch and #MixItUp.

Photo by Todd Bigelow