A group of Lakeville South High School students are sending a message to classmates about diversity and respect through a public service announcement (PSA).
The PSA, filmed last year and shown to students this fall, features students of various ethnicities and backgrounds, from Somali to African-American, Asian to Latino; there's even a redheaded white student in the mix.
Their message is simple: Stereotypes about people's ethnicity, appearance or religion are hurtful, and they are proud of the things that make them different.
"It's just a matter of respect," students say in the PSA, after giving examples of jokes they sometimes hear.
The video has been shown to every class at Lakeville South and is on YouTube (www.youtube.com/watch?v=biIKrOvThcw), where it's been viewed about 650 times. Superintendent Lisa Snyder tweeted about it, which led to a recent appearance by the students on a KARE-TV morning show.
Students said the PSA taps into an important issue at the school, which is 86 percent white. "Sometimes we do feel uncomfortable at words and comments that are said from time to time," said Charles McElroy, a senior who appears in the video.
Joel Varghese, another senior in the PSA, agreed. "Most of the time … you don't really think about it," he said. "But you have some of those moments where you look around and you're like, 'Oh, wow, I'm the only minority in my class.' "
The idea for the project came from the administration last year, said Derek Otten, an English and broadcast journalism teacher who directed the students and helped write the script. After a previous PSA addressing homophobic comments was successful, Principal Scott Douglas asked Otten about making another focused on diversity, Otten said.
The fact that the message came from students was key, Douglas said. "When students talk about diversity, appreciation of differences, tolerance and respect, the message has deeper meaning," he said.
The PSA's tone "struck a balance" between challenging their peers and getting them to imagine what it would be like to be a minority at their school, Otten said.
McElroy and Varghese said they've received positive responses — including applause when it was shown — from students and staff. McElroy said he thinks it was an "eye-opener" that will make students think twice before making certain comments.
Students in the PSA have bonded over their experiences, too. "It's something that really nobody else gets unless you've been in that situation, being a tiny minority in a school," said Varghese.
Otten hopes the project will foster honest discussions about race. "It's a place to start, and we hope to continue the dialogue," he said.