This fall marks an important anniversary for students, faculty, staff and administrators at the University of West Georgia (UWG). They’ve been “mixing it up” for a decade now as part of Mix It up at Lunch Day, Teaching Tolerance’s international campaign encouraging students to identify, question and cross social boundaries by sitting with new friends at lunch.
At UWG, 580 people participated this October. They joined students at 48 other colleges and universities and more than 3,200 K–12 schools that signed up for the program. The UWG staff are Mix It Up veterans; they began celebrating “Mix Day” in 2009, after the Southern Poverty Law Center’s director of outreach, Lecia Brooks, gave a presentation there. Brooks spoke with Deirdre Haywood-Rouse and Doris Kieh, two staffers at the school’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion, about Mix It Up. The Center now hosts the program annually.
This year, students, faculty, staff and administrators mixed it up at four locations across campus. Kieh explains, “The program has been a really good one here on campus,” in part because more than 70 different countries and 38 states are represented in UWG’s student body. With a total enrollment of over 13,000 students, she says, “we see the need to mix it up.”
The Center for Diversity and Inclusion focuses on three goals for the program: to help students engage in dialogue with someone new and interact with people outside of their normal social circles; to encourage people to be more comfortable in interacting with others; and to promote awareness and understanding between students from different backgrounds.
Around 30 student volunteers serve as greeters at the dining facilities where Mix It Up is held, encouraging classmates to join in as they come in for lunch. Participating students, faculty, staff and administrators receive “Mix It Up” buttons and choose conversation starter slips from a bowl at their table.
The topics vary, but students might discuss culture, ethnicity, ability, campus inclusion or their own experiences with diversity at their school. “When you talk about these things, barriers break down,” Haywood-Rouse says. Some of the conversation starters are more casual, such as, “If you could have been born anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?” or “Tell us about your favorite holiday or tradition.” Also included in the bowls are more probing questions, such as, “Why do you think women generally get paid less than men for identical work?” Haywood-Rouse and Kieh say providing students with a choice about conversation topics helps them to feel more comfortable opening up to new friends, which—even as a young adult—can still be a little intimidating.
UWG is a great example of how Mix It Up can be adapted to make any setting more inclusive. If your school, workplace or program wasn’t able to take part in this year’s National Mix It Up at Lunch Day on October 23, it’s never too late! We hope you’ll mix it up year-round—and for years to come.
Ehrenhalt is the school programs coordinator at Teaching Tolerance.