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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    A-Town offers diversity awareness

    Anytown Arizona, Inc., nicknamed “”A-Town,”” has been offering students ages 13-17 a social justice workshop for 50 years. And now it’s being offered to college students.

    After nine months of working with A-Town to make the program possible for university students, ASUA Sen. Dustin Cox has announced that the organization’s conference will be held Jan. 10-15 in Oracle.

    “”Racism is still very much alive,”” said Cox, a political science senior. “”There is violence in our community and a lot of people want to fix these things. This is a great way for people to earn the skills to be able to.””

    Students will gain a heightened knowledge of diversity issues and what social justice means through A-Town’s interactive workshops, he said.

    Originally, Cox had proposed that 50 student delegates attend the conference, but positive feedback from UA students encouraged him to increase that number to 70.

    Of that total, five will be UA professors and five will be administrators or other employees, Cox said. Ten will be student leaders, five will be members of the University Activities Board or one of its committees, five will be ASUA members and 40 will be students.

    Through various fundraising efforts, Cox is close to raising the $28,000 needed to make the A-Town conference possible for the 40 UA students and came $4,000 closer with the help of ASUA at Wednesday night’s Senate meeting.

    “”I have been working like crazy to fundraise so students won’t have to pay anything out of pocket,”” he said.

    He plans to have food, room, board and tuition included for those who are chosen to attend. The only thing he said students may need to take care of for themselves is the 45-minute drive up to Oracle.

    A-Town offers a variety of activities and exercises that ask participants to answer self-designed questions about their lives, said Jeremy Gorenstein, A-Town’s executive director. The workshops can be about religion, race, family-related issues, the community someone grew up in or gender issues.

    “”People are learning diversity awareness through self-awareness,”” he said.

    A-Town is experiential learning and can be hard to explain, Gorenstein added – people have to go through it to understand it.

    “”The experience is not 10 steps this way and 10 steps that way,”” he said. “”People talk about issues and put it on the table when they necessarily wouldn’t.””

    People are expected to leave workshops feeling empowered, respect for themselves and respect for those around them, regardless of race, religion and other attributes, he added.

    ASUA Sen. Seema Patel, a biology junior, has worked with A-Town for more than eight years and will be a counselor there in January.

    She said she learns something new every time she attends, because she meets so many students with different backgrounds.

    “”The way I look at it is Anytown is about perception,”” she said. “”It breaks down every part you consider your identity, such as your race, ethnicity and religious beliefs, and allows you to put them in a personal meaning.””

    From her years of experience at A-Town, Patel now wants to take a leadership role in life and be proactive in her community.

    “”This is something you can do by yourself as one person,”” she said. “”Change doesn’t happen overnight, but you have to have the motivation to encourage change. This gives you the motivation to encourage that change.””

    Applications are on the ASUA Web site until Nov. 21. Although there are no specific qualifications, those who put the most into their applications and seem to be passionate about attending will have a better chance of being selected to be one of the 40, Cox said.

    Tana Feliz Encinas, a political science freshman, plans to apply for A-Town.

    “”I am really interested in diversity initiatives, and it would be a great place to learn what other people are doing to fund those goals,”” she said.

    Encinas plans to double major in public health and eventually work in Third World countries creating health programs and
    health initiatives.

    She would like to set up HIV clinics and help countries help out their own people and said she thinks A-Town will help her achieve these goals.

    Working with the program for five years, Cox said he has seen the “”power”” it has among those who attend. At the conference he has made friends with gang members and neo-Nazis because of the social justice education.

    “”It is very powerful,”” Cox said of the program. “”I want to see the skills and knowledge transfer to make our community safer and a more positive environment.””

    Anyone who would like more information regarding the conference application process can contact Cox at 621-2782.

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