In 1998, the vassar College PEACE chapter brought 180 second- and third-graders together from three very different schools in the Poughkeepsie, N.Y., area: a mostly black and Latino school; a predominately white, suburban school; and a private Jewish school.
"The city kids are moving in and ruining the neighborhood," a seven-year-old participant proclaimed, while another said: "I don't want to write to a black penpal." After participating in PEACE's Mentoring Project and meeting several peers and mentors who are black and Latino, one of the two youngsters took me aside and confided that she would no longer say those things.
PEACE (Promoting Equality And Community Everywhere) programs like this one reach thousands of students each year. I created the organization in 1995 - and activities like the mentoring project - based on my conviction that young people can and should play pivotal roles in establishing inclusive, respectful, and responsible multicultural societies. I realized in high school that there are many young people such as myself who want to confront prejudice, discrimination, and hatred, but are excluded from the decisionmaking processes of most established organizations. I also wanted to help demystify "otherness."
During my undergraduate career, I have worked part time to develop and enhance PEACE programs. They are designed to be implemented anywhere, which encourages chapters to address the unique needs of their local communities. Currently there are four PEACE chapters: Vassar in Poughkeepsie, Brown University in Providence, R.I., Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., and New Trier High School in suburban Chicago. Chapters are developing in India, Israel, Japan, Italy, Mexico, Canada, and at junior highs, high schools, colleges, and universities throughout the US.