April 29, 2019

Human Rights Awareness Day–From Gang Violence to Immigration: Teens Tackle Important Topics

By Taylor Damian ’14

More than 300 high school juniors and seniors from 20-plus Nassau County school districts attended eight timely workshops during the Human Rights Awareness Day (HRAD) student conference at Adelphi on January 31, at the Ruth S. Harley University Center.

The goal of the annual event was to promote human decency, respect and sensitivity for people of all races, religions, cultures, ages and genders.

The conference—a collaborative event created by the Nassau County Human Rights Commission 33 years ago and hosted by Adelphi’s College of Education and Health Sciences for 13 years—featured thought-provoking workshops presented by members of local law enforcement and professors, including Adelphi faculty. Workshop topics ranged from the rights of immigrant youths, mental health in the LGBTQ+ community and gang awareness and prevention to constitutional rights, sexual assault and social media.

The conference creates “an opportunity for emerging high school juniors and seniors to discuss issues of race, ethnicity, gender and bigotry,” said event coordinator Patrice Armstrong-Leach, assistant dean of the College of Education and Health Sciences.

Devin Thornburg, Ph.D., professor with the College’s Ruth S. Ammon School of Education, and Adelphi Director of Student Mentoring Chotsani West presented a workshop titled “Beginning Conversations About Microaggressions, Social Media and Human Rights.”

That workshop’s aim was to teach students to identify microaggressions—subtle, indirect expressions of bigoted views or attitudes—in everyday life as well as how they affect social media culture and human rights. To illustrate this, students participated in a number of group exercises to get to know one another and identify their cultural differences and similarities. Then, after watching media clips featuring a controversial news story, they were asked to decipher the microaggressions within the scenario. At the end of the workshop, students shared how they could take what they learned about microaggressions and cultural sensitivity and apply it to the classroom and the world.

“The need to promote tolerance [and] cultural and racial understanding cannot be overstated,” Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said. “Despite the challenges we may face, we must reject discrimination, intolerance and bigotry in all its forms.”

Nassau County detective sergeant Michael Marino’s workshop spotlighted “Gang Awareness and Prevention.” In her workshop, Sylvia Pastor Finkelstein, assistant district attorney and director of immigrant affairs with Nassau County’s district attorney’s office, focused on “Immigrant Youth on Long Island: Do They Have Rights?”

The day concluded with the moving presentation of “Homeland Insecurity,” original monologues performed by eight Adelphi first-year Theatre students— Sophia Carvalho, Mili Shrestha, Emma Scholl, Dayna Cumins, Belgys Felix, Germaine Jeanty, Carson Ferguson and William Meurer. Directed by Associate Professor Margaret Lally ’82, the students’ emotional performances centered around the theme of safety at home, in school and in everyday life.

Topics discussed were sexuality, bullying, love, racism, drugs, mental health and gun violence. The troupe’s mission was to “bring evocative and diverse stories on social justice issues to students through a theater experience, to engage, educate and entertain,” Lally said.

Afterward, one of the performers, sophomore Carson Ferguson, said, “Being able to have a Q&A with the high schoolers and hear their experiences showed that we can make a change, that there are things we can do to help others and let people know we are there for them. I wish I had had that experience in high school.”


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About Adelphi: A modern metropolitan university with a personalized approach to higher learning

Adelphi University, New York, is a highly awarded, nationally ranked, powerfully connected doctoral research university dedicated to transforming students’ lives through small classes with world-class faculty, hands-on learning and innovative ways to support academic and career success. Adelphi offers exceptional liberal arts and sciences programs and professional training, with particular strength in our Core Four—Arts and Humanities, STEM and Social Sciences, the Business and Education Professions, and Health and Wellness.

Recognized as a Best College by U.S. News & World Report, Adelphi is Long Island’s oldest private coeducational university. It serves almost 8,000 students at its beautiful main campus in Garden City, New York—just 23 miles from New York City’s cultural and internship opportunities—and at dynamic learning hubs in Manhattan, the Hudson Valley and Suffolk County, as well as online. 

More than 116,000 Adelphi graduates have gained the skills to thrive professionally as active, engaged citizens, making their mark on the University, their communities and the world.

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Taylor Damian
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