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The Daily Tar Heel

Local Students Gather to Discuss Discrimination

The summit, held at the Sheraton Hotel in Chapel Hill, was organized by the Orange County Department of Human Rights and Relations, an organization that works to prevent discrimination throughout Orange County.

The department's director, Annette Moore, said officials wanted to get involved with area young people to help prevent discrimination in local high schools. Students from Chapel Hill, East Chapel Hill and Orange high schools participated in the event.

Milan Phan, a civil rights specialist and the event's program coordinator, said a goal of the summit was to help each high school develop its own one-year plan to deal with the specific type of discrimination found there.

"We want to localize it so each school will have their own plan," Phan said. "A generalized plan won't work."

Phan said she wanted young people to invest in implementing their own plans. "It's based on a grassroots philosophy," she said. "Don't create solutions for a group without involving them."

The summit began Saturday morning with a panel discussion of racism, sexism and homophobia. "We live in a society that says we're a democracy, but our government is predominantly white, straight men," said Christine Williams, a panelist from the Orange County Rape Crisis Center.

Tyrone Hunter Jr., a CHHS sophomore, said racial discrimination is still a problem in high schools, despite the fact that schools were integrated nearly 40 years ago.

"It's not 'we already went through this,'" Hunter said. "We're still going through this. Students get labeled, and they don't get a change to express themselves."

The summit came as the result of a Department of Human Rights and Relations survey of 200 Orange County students that indicated that discrimination is the biggest problem high school students face next to peer pressure.

Beth Irvin, an ECHHS student who serves as president of the Orange County Youth Council, said the event provided an outlet for concerned students.

"This summit is helpful to fighting back against issues," she said. "Silence is a huge problem because it's the most common reaction to these issues. But this summit brings students together so they can have a unified voice."

Stephen Halkiotis, chairman of the Orange County Board of Commissioners, also said he supports the event. "Democracies don't last for too long unless they spend their time and money on young people," he said.

Along with helping high schools develop their own one-year plans, Phan said she wants to compile all the suggestions from the summit and present them to the Orange County commissioners.

Phan said another summit already is being planned for next year to continue the fight against discrimination in local high schools.

"This is just the beginning."

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