History Major Asks, “What’s In your Backpack?”

From the desk of Dr. Sace Elder:

Has anyone ever made stereotyped assumptions about you? Have you ever been the subject of a racist or homophobic comment? Have you ever witnessed one and did not know what to do?

History major John Jaso recently posed these questions at the EIUnity Diversity Conference in the Effingham Room of the MLK, Jr., Union. During the session, titled, “What’s In Your Backpack?” Mr. Jaso created a “safe zone” for the more than thirty participants, who shared their personal experiences with racism, sexism, ableism, and homophobia and discussed strategies for talking back to hurtful stereotypes.

History major John Jaso at the 2015 EIUnity Diversity Conference on February 6, 2015

History major John Jaso at the 2015 EIUnity Diversity Conference on February 6, 2015

This was the second time Mr. Jaso had run such a session, which he developed after someone close to him had been the object of hate speech and systematic discrimination. Mr. Jaso’s goal in the sessions is to get people talking about hurtful stereotypes and what we can do about them. During this particular session, the conversation started rather haltingly, as participants were rather reluctant at first to share personal experiences. But with Mr. Jaso’s patient and kind encouragement, individuals began telling stories, and soon a wide-ranging conversation developed. By the end of the hour, the room truly felt like a safe space, and before the session was over, Mr. Jaso encouraged everyone to carry the experience forward into their everyday lives, and to remember to be respectful of the contents of others’ backpacks.

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