More than 150 groups, clubs and organizations make up the Clarion University family. Many of these groups are well-known, but some are not.
Building Bridges is run by the Office of Minority Student Services.
The purpose of the program, which is supervised by Rogers Laugand III, is to give students experiences with diversity, as well as to talk about it, and unite students as a whole, according to the Building Bridges page on the university website. Laugand said Building Bridges came to Clarion more than 20 years ago, and was modeled after the program at Shippensburg University.
“It was really the efforts of two students,” Laugand said.
In the program, selected students become facilitators to help guide discussions in and out of the classroom about diversity, gender equality, race, stereotypes, sexual orientation, interracial dating, religion, ethnicity and other topics. The mission is to help unite students and stop the act of prejudice and racism throughout the Clarion campus.
“I thought it provided a unique opportunity to make a connection of how diversity is important and connected to majors, career fields and particular classes. I thought it was cool,” Laugand said about why he partook in Building Bridges.
Laugand said he believes the program is educational for students because facilitators go into classes to talk about current or relevant issues, to create an open and honest dialogue.
Every semester, Laugand gathers a diverse group of facilitators to engage in group discussions about current issues with professors and students around campus. He recently held sessions in classrooms about “white privilege” and also discussed topics such as the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Another session included the topic of stereotypes and how people are still judged by the color of their skin or the clothes they wear.
Facilitators have students participate in an exercise involving stereotypes and how stereotypes can be negative. In this exercise, five students are chosen from the audience, given notecards and directed to stand in front of their class to be stereotyped by the way they look. The notecards handed to the five students include a CEO, barista, student athlete, janitor and stay-at-home parent. The point of the exercise is to have the students in the audience stereotype in order to prove that stereotyping is wrong and shouldn’t be done. Facilitators choose the students for each notecard for a specific reason.
When the exercise ends and identities are revealed, members of the audience were surprised by how they stereotyped. A female was given the CEO notecard, a male was given then stay-at-home parent notecard, a nicely dressed male in the audience was given the janitor notecard, a female was given the student athlete notecard, and a male was given the barista notecard.
“I thought the exercise taught students that stereotyping is a bad habit to have. I realize this since I am an early childhood and special education major, that I am unable to stereotype against my future students,” said junior Katie Brehm. “Building Bridges does a good job on trying to bring the students of the campus together. It’s a great program. Every student at Clarion should attend at least one session, because it can truly impact a person’s opinion toward others, and teach people to be more inviting to people who are different than you.”
In the Building Bridges sessions, students are allowed to speak their opinions without the fear of being judged. Before every session, Laugand tells students that the topics discussed and opinions stated in the room stay inside the room.
The main goal of each session, whether inside or outside the classroom, is to have an open and honest dialogue among the students.
“It’s a safe haven for us to talk about issues we may not be comfortable talking about,” Laugand said. “It’s an opportunity to talk about issues we might not usually talk about. It allows students to build relationships. I think it helps in uniting of the Clarion campus.”
Throughout the semester, student facilitators gather in pre-planning sessions in order to discuss the topics they will be talking about in the upcoming session. Most of the time, professors contact Building Bridges to have the session tie in with what is being discussed in class.
Sophomore Ariel Ware said, “I am unfamiliar with the program, but my friend is involved. However, I do realize how important the discussions are. I do believe there is racism and prejudice on the campus, and these issues need to be addressed.”
After every session, student facilitators pass out evaluation forms in order to get feedback on their session, whether it was good or bad, and also to critique what students who attended may not have liked or what can be better.
On the university website, frequent responses were posted including, “The session helped my own thinking of how to incorporate diversity in my own teach.”
Another response was, “Building Bridges is a very effective program. I felt that this group gave me a better understanding of others’ cultures and the need to learn.”
Active facilitator and president of Building Bridges Torron Mollett said, “I love Building Bridges. The group truly owns up to its name. I’ve been a member for almost two years, and now I am president. Overall, I joined Building Bridges because they came to my class, and the discussion we had that day was very great and open. This made me want to be a part of a great group like this so, I decided to join.”
Laugand said, “Diversity is going to be a part of your life. You have to embrace it and appreciate it. It’s part of who you are irrespective of your race, religion, national origin or color. It’s going to be part of your life, and it will make our environment or society a better place.”
For more information on the group Building Bridges, visit the university website.