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School starts campaign against discrimination with #itendswithme hashtag

NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: STEPHANIE HAUGEN - Forest Grove High School teacher Daniel Stapp gave a passionate speech last Friday, April 22, about the power of words and the schools new campaign to end disrespectful speech. Throughout the week, members of the schools more than 40 clubs celebrated their interests through special events, including culinary club, earth club and the Vikettes dance team.Last Friday morning at Forest Grove High School, rappers rapped against prejudice, a teacher challenged people to start “difficult conversations,” and nearly 2,000 students raised their hands to support changing the school culture as the annual Unity Through Diversity Week reached its climax.

This year’s week carried more weight than usual, coming just a month after a sophomore called an African American teacher the n-word, rallying other students to her support and sparking some indignant reactions.

Daniel Stapp — a language arts teacher who doubles as FGHS activity director — said many students insisted that incident didn’t reflect the school’s true character. “That’s not us. That’s not us,” he heard them saying.

“Well, it happened,” he told them, “so it kind of is us.”

Friday morning, Stapp fired up the assembly with a call for action. He asked the audience to “stand up against hateful words and actions” while students handed out bracelets that read, “I am united.”

“Words matter. What you do matters. The words we choose matter,” said Stapp, who then asked students to raise their hands if they wanted to take part in changing the school’s culture.

Nearly every hand went up.

That includes all derogatory language against a group or individual, whether that’s a racial slur or calling something stupid “gay,” plus every-

thing in between, Stapp said.

“It’s about education and having difficult conversations,” he said. “We’re always in a constant state of learning.”

Stapp outlined a few simple, concrete steps for students.

First, be ready to initiate those difficult conversations, as tough as they may be, to let people know if the kind of language they’re using is not appropriate.

“Help teach those around you,” he said. “It’s not easy to challenge — and it’s not easy to listen either.” But it’s important to stand up to peers who are using deragatory language toward any individual or group, he said.

Everyone in the audience stood up when Stapp asked them to show their support for this plan. He then encouraged students to start using the social media hashtag #itendswithme, which will link them to other posts using that hashtag and to comments addressing discrimination.

“Demand better of yourself and those around you,” said Stapp, who was met with clapping and cheers. “It’s your choice.”

Kicking off the assembly, three high school students adapted lyrics to fit the beat and chorus of American rapper Nas’s song “I Can.” Accompanied by the high school’s band, orchestra and choir, students Joel Fletcher, Jackson Maybee-Davis and Enrique Garcia rapped their own lyrics, centering on acceptance and leaving behind prejudice.

The song injected energy into the hour-long assembly filled with other announcements and the reveal of the school’s prom court.

At one point the entire mass of students was on their feet, joining in the rappers’ song and chanting in unison: “I know I can be what I want to be. If I work hard at it, I’ll be where I want to be.”