Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 47
 
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
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Students Examine Princeton Fault Lines, Urging a Greater Degree of Tolerance

Matthew Hersh

Princeton High School Junior Olivia Alperstein said that she’s heard virtually every homophobic epithet in the book while strolling the halls between classrooms.

Poised, well-spoken, and seemingly emboldened by her experience, Ms. Alperstein, who is bisexual, described her usual response: “I explain to people that words like that are hurtful, but most of the time, the people saying these things don’t understand the effect that these words have. When I hear words like that, I feel like I’ve been stabbed.”

David Griffin, a PHS senior, is the only player on the PHS football team who is also a member of the PHS choir. Upon leaving football practice early for choir practice, he said the ribbing he got from his teammates crossed the line.

Both Ms. Alperstein and Mr. Griffin were among the 30 PHS students at the PHS Performing Arts Center Sunday taking part in “Through Our Eyes,” a production sponsored by the social action group Not In Our Town, aimed to increase the level of tolerance and to discourage schoolyard behavior like making fun of other students for their looks, height, weight, sexual orientation or “anything that makes someone different,” Ms. Alperstein said.

The program follows a February event hosted by Not In Our Town that was organized in response to the arrest of four black PHS students in September 2006 for alleged complicity in an immigrant beating case. The four were later cleared.

Drawing about 100 spectators including parents, educators, elected officials, and police officers, the event urged more school administration interaction in dealing with verbal abuse cases, the creation of curricula that addresses verbal abuse, and the adoption of “S4”: Stop Saying Stupid Stuff.

“This fits in with our mission,” said Ann Yasuhara, of Not In Our Town. “Our really deep hope is that the ideals of friendship, community, and pride, really prevail here.”

PHS student Will Casparian said in his introductory remarks that while “Princeton has a lot to offer, that’s not why we’re here today. We’re here to improve what’s not so great.”

Stereotyping was also a focal point of the event. “Looking preppy” or “acting black” or derogatory comments made to a Hispanic student about her father’s profession were all addressed, leading the student group to urge a culture day at school, and the promotion of a general dialogue about stereotyping.

Law enforcement was also represented Sunday. Princeton Township Police Sgt. Thomas Murray said his department was aware of racial stereotyping and that the problem stems from a “lack of respect” for others. Township Patrol Officer Ben Gering offered to meet with Not In Our Town on a regular basis.

“If someone doesn’t have respect for me,” Mr. Casparian commented, “as much as I try, I’m not going to be able to respect them.” Salima Adamou, on the other hand, said she could channel people’s stereotypes into something positive: “If someone doesn’t feel like I’m capable of doing something, it actually makes me push even harder.

“I refuse to sit there and have someone tell me that because I’m black, I can’t do something.”

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