Local students gain broader cultural understanding with S.T.O.P. Program


Local students gain broader cultural understanding with S.T.O.P. Program
S.T.O.P. participants learn about different cultures. (Photo/Ridha Alam)

SHREWSBURY – Several Shrewsbury students are learning more about cultural diversity.
Shrewsbury is home to the latest branch of the Students Together Opposing Prejudice (S.T.O.P.) Program. After the town’s original S.T.O.P. chapter shut down several years ago due to lack of involvement, Ridha Alam – a student at UMass Amherst – was motivated to bring the program back.

“On campus, at UMass, I’m part of the South Asian Student Association… We had an event where we had panels come in, and the panelists were faculty members at UMass who were of Asian and South Asian descent. So, as I was sitting there listening to them talk, we were all discussing strategies on how we could [stop Asian hate]. While we were talking, it clicked… and it reminded me of S.T.O.P.,” Alam said.

Alam, who used to participate in Shrewsbury’s original S.T.O.P. branch in middle school, immediately reached out to the Subury-based main organization. Sheila Goldberg and Susan Murphy, two of the organization’s founders, guided Alam, helping her start the Shrewsbury branch.

“They were super on board and super supportive,” Alam said.

S.T.O.P. is a “comprehensive initiative designed to foster inclusivity and combat prejudice among middle-school students.” The program meets for seven consecutive Thursday nights, visiting different organizations throughout town.

This year, the fall 2023 cohort visited the Shrewsbury Public Library, Westborough’s Gurdwara Sahib, the Worcester Islamic Center, Saint Mary’s Parish, Congregation B’nai Shalom, the First Congregational Church of Shrewsbury and the India Heritage Foundation.

Local students gain broader cultural understanding with S.T.O.P. Program
S.T.O.P. participants learn about different cultures. (Photo/Ridha Alam)

At each session, the hosting organization gives a brief presentation on its purpose – for instance, at the First Congregational Church of Shrewsbury session, S.T.O.P. students learned about Christian beliefs.

After the presentations, students receive a tour of the facility and “engag[e] in guided discussions and activities that revolve around the theme for that session.”

Although the majority of the hosts were religious organizations this year, Alam said she hopes to get more non-religious institutions – like elderly homes, refugee centers and hospitals – in the future. The goal is to expose the middle-school participants to all different ways of life.

“I think, for me, the biggest thing I want [the participants] to get out of it is lifelong skills,” said Alam. “The world is always changing, and you’re always going to be put in new situations, and some of these situations might make you uncomfortable. I want them to be able to know techniques and strategies on how they can handle themselves in those types of situations.”

“Whenever there’s hate in the world, I want them to know how to respond,” added Alam.
For more information on S.T.O.P., visit https://stoptheprejudice.net/.

S.T.O.P. is gauging the community’s interest in 2024-2025 sessions. The interest form of middle-school students is available at http://tinyurl.com/fgiedk; those interested in becoming high-school facilitators may visit http://tinyurl.com/mdkfkff.

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