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Mix It Up Day helps students break down social barriers

Juniors William Parks and Hope Sletteback took part in the Mix It Up at Lunch Day at Perham High School on May 16. “I think it’s smart getting to know other people,” Sletteback said of the event and its goal. Elizabeth Huwe/FOCUS

Class assignments sometimes call attention to an issue students want to change, sparking a larger plan for action that goes beyond the assignment itself.

That is what happened when Rachel Newville, Nick Bahls and Sydney Roberts began working on a project for their public speaking class about breaking down barriers.

Newville explained that, after the presentation was finished, they decided to go a step farther and hold a Mix It Up at Lunch Day on May 16.

Mix It Up at Lunch Day is a national campaign that was launched over 10 years ago by a group called Teaching Tolerance.

“In our surveys, students have identified the cafeteria as the place where divisions are most clearly drawn,” Teaching Tolerance states on its website. “So on one day… we ask students to move out of their comfort zones and connect with someone new over lunch. It’s a simple act with profound implications.”

After having their hands stamped with a color, students were encouraged to “mix it up” at lunch by sitting at the table with the same color as their stamp. The goal was for students to sit with and get to know someone they might not have really talked to otherwise.

If students were able to share something they learned about one of their table mates, they were able to win candy or other prizes from local businesses.

“It’s been interesting,” said Bahls, who admitted he had been skeptical of how well the event would go over. “We weren’t going to force it. The concept is good… it’s baby steps.”

Newville said she knew some students opted to get lunch elsewhere rather than take part. Other than that bit of resistance, she said that the overall response and participation was very positive.

After the lunch, junior William Parks said the event was, “Better than I thought it was going to be.”

I think it’s smart getting to know other people, said Hope Sletteback, also a junior.