Mix It Up Day in the Cafeteria
by Lainey Bouvier
Sophomore, Franklin High School, International Baccalaureate
When you enter the lunchroom at my high school, Franklin High School, you look around at the different tables. At each table there are people you see in the hallway, people you have met, and people you have never seen before. In the halls, it is even worse.
There are people on the stairs, on the benches, in close circles, in large ovals, and just lounging on the floor. There are people sitting in lines against the wall, and people sitting alone. There are people everywhere. People that you don’t know – that you don’t know anything about. You take your seat among your peers, in the spot they left for you.
Then, one day, someone else takes that spot. What do you do now? You’re going to have to find somewhere else to sit. But you don’t know any of these people. You sit down anyway, next to new people who look friendly, and you talk to them. You sit there the next day, and the next. You learn more about these people. The more you talk, the more you learn what they like, what they do, and who they are. These people you had never seen just a few weeks before become trusted friends.
With Mix-It-Up Day, we can create this type of situation on a wider scale. It can affect every student throughout the school. Mix-It-Up Day asks students to sit in a different place than they usually do, with different people than they usually do. The concept is simple, but the payoff is huge. The goal of this is to meet more people, and learn more about people than you would have otherwise.
According to studies, this simple act increases social and emotional intelligence, as well as helps to grow empathy in children, tweens and teens. The Southern Poverty Law Center writes: “By breaking out of their comfort zones to get to know someone new, students are much more able to see each other as individuals and not just members of separate groups … These positive interactions among students can help reduce prejudice, stereotypes and bullying.”
When a student does not have empathy for another group of people, they can make judgements and misunderstand the other group. This usually happens when students do not know anything about the other group, except perhaps what their friends tell them. By sitting together and learning about other people – and what they like, believe, or do – can help to alleviate many of those misunderstandings.
There will be people who will resist this idea, of course. They will say it is stupid or that it will not work. However, according to Psychologist Karen Young, “sometimes, children might be driven to reject for no other reason than to strengthen their own sense of belonging within a group. Children consider other children to be ‘in’ or ‘out’ based on that child’s choices or what he or she enjoys.”
Through sitting with another person, you will learn what they enjoy and this may encourage you to try new things. You may even find yourself enjoying it as well. But, even if you do not end up with something else you enjoy, you will end up with an understanding of another person, and another person who has a deeper understanding of you.
At Franklin High School, Diversity Leadership Project will sponsor a monthly Mix It Up Day, a day for everyone to sit down in other places when they eat. We will have signs posted all over the school, encouraging other students to do the same. We also plan to have a table where students can write down who they met, and one thing they learned about that person. They might receive a coupon for a fast food sandwich or another small incentive for their participation.
As the Southern Poverty Law Center reminds us, “Mix It Up Day can be an eye-opening event for students as they realize just how much they have in common with their classmates and how wonderful their differences can be.”
For more information, here are a few websites I referenced in my research:
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