Two youth act out a skit to show campers about how some face discrimination. Photo by Briana Mendez-Padilla.
High school students from over 10 Southern California schools gathered to participate in Building Bridges, a three-day camp focusing on gender justice. For Long Beach students from schools like Jordan, McBride, and Poly, Building Bridges was an opportunity for high school students to learn and discuss important issues such as racial and gender injustice.
The camp took place at Pilgrim Pines in Oak Glenn on Nov. 8 through Nov. 10 and was hosted by the California Conference for Equality and Justice. Throughout the weekend, the high school youth learned about different social injustices and how to understand their own privileges in order to advocate for others.
Building Bridges followed a model that split the material into three sections representing a different aspect of oppression — “Head, Heart, and Hand.” The head refers to negative thoughts that create stereotypes, the heart refers to negative feelings which in turn create prejudice, and the hand refers to the direct action of discrimination and oppression.
Day One — “Head”
Through comedic and entertaining skits performed during the first day, campers explored the widespread stereotypes by which people define themselves and others.
Two skits — “Gender Binary Machine” and “The Laboratory of Oppression” — were used to teach participants about gender roles and bigotry. While the “Gender Binary Machine” used a sci-fi-like premise to show how stereotypically gendered traits do not define people, “The Laboratory of Oppression” had staff members and youth leaders act out sexism, cisgenderism, or heterosexism to illustrate how the impact these can have.
Day Two — “Heart”
The second day was dedicated to the heart, or the feelings we experience. Campers played “The Game of Life,” an activity where they were put in the shoes of others with identities different from their own.
The game consisted of dividing campers into families with their own backstory and new identities such as “cisgender, gender-conforming, heterosexual woman” or “cisgender, non conforming, gay man,” and a list of tasks and stations to go to.
At each station, staff in the roles of judgemental members of society would interact with the campers. Depending on the campers’ identities and how these are perceived in general by society, staff would either mistreat or favor them. In one example, a pair of lesbian women were denied a child at the “make-a-baby” station, while a heterosexual couple with a gay son was denied health care.
Emotions rose throughout the game as campers became frustrated with the injustice around them and how helpless they felt. The point of the game was to show campers that the world can and will be a wretched place, where privilege will get people places and, if you are not part of the “norm,” then life will be much more difficult.
Day Three — “Hand”
Alas, to staff and campers’ dismay, the last day arrived. The main theme was advocacy — how campers could take the knowledge they acquired “down the mountain” and create change.
According to posters at the camp, discrimination is the action of oppression and is best combated through knowledge and advocacy.
Advocacy is “working by yourselves and with others to challenge the isms in your everyday life,” according to a poster presented at the camp. In conclusion to an intensive weekend of information, CCEJ worked to prepare the young campers for standing up for themselves and others in today’s society.
In groups, the campers were given situations to test these ideas and then created a skit where they took action through advocacy particular to their respective scenarios.
“I’m definitely going to start seeing things differently, and watch what I say,” said Liliana Martinez, a McBride High School junior who said it is important for her to speak up and educate people about the use of non-binary terms.
On Nov. 10, campers and staff packed their bags and prepared to say goodbye to the group they had bonded with over the span of three days.
“This camp is important because, without it, many people wouldn’t know they are privileged and they would just walk around uneducated,” said Izzy Fells, a youth leader from Wilson High School, “and the world needs more educated people.”
Kaon Suh, a sophomore at the Orange County School of the Arts, appreciated the camp tackling serious problems often overlooked by society.
“Things like cisgenderism and heterosexism are not seen as problematic by society and the majority of the world,” Suh said. “Anyone who strays from the norm is discriminated, which causes a lot of pain in a lot of people.”
The main thing Youth Mentor Noah X, wants campers to take away from the camp is the lessons learned and the connections built.
“Remember that we’re not alone, your voice is powerful, people will listen, and if they’re not, stand together and they will.”