| Student Unity Task Force, , Columbia (Richland County), S.C.
| Jesse Washington, Executive Director, Greater Columbia Community Relations Council: (803) 733-1130
| To build interpersonal relationships and to support the development of cross-cultural communication and leadership skills
In the late 1990s, the Greater Columbia Community Relations Council (CRC) established a goal of promoting increased racial awareness and tolerance among local high school students. In 1996, as part of its education plan, the council received private funding to create a series of training sessions for students, faculty and administrators in every public high school in Richland County. (Two private high schools were also included.)
Each high school selected five sophomores or juniors to become members of the CRC's newly created Student Unity Task Force. Each school was also asked to select a volunteer faculty advisor to provide supervision and support to the task force. There were several criteria for selecting students: interest in diversity, good communication skills, empathy towards others and willingness to commit time and energy for training and follow-up sessions. Students are required to take three days of training before they become members of the task force. The training, done with the assistance of the University of South Carolina, addresses diversity issues, cross-cultural communication skills and conflict resolution skills. The Student Unity Task Force provides ongoing support for students as they develop and implement diversity programs in their respective schools. These plans reflect the specific needs of each school and identify the best ways to prevent interpersonal conflict and enhance tolerance in the school environment. For example, one idea that students had was to attempt to integrate the high school cafeteria during meal times. Subsequent phases, to be implemented during the 1997-98 school year, will include educating school staff and parents.
Outcomes and Significant Accomplishments
Early indications are that the majority of schools are working to improve race relations, based on suggestions from the Student Unity Task Force. In fall 1996, students presented their goals and objectives for improving race relations in their schools to principals and superintendents of Richland County. In addition, the Community Relations Council is working with churches, synagogues and other religious groups to build friendships across racial lines.