AUGUSTA – A statewide conference got students thinking about how to respect differences in others, and make their schools a better place.
More than 600 students from 73 schools all across Maine gathered in Augusta Friday to work on a shared interest of civil rights.
The conference brings together civil rights teams at local schools, which aim to increase safety for students by reducing bias-based behaviors and harassment in school.
“You’re not too young to have these things affect you. And so you should be able to have some say in what happens,” said Aine Casey, a freshman at Foxcroft Academy.
Students presented to other students, sharing their experiences working on social justice issues.
Some of those students came from Foxcroft Academy in Dover-Foxcroft. They’ve worked on implementing gender-neutral bathrooms, and giving seniors the choice of what color graduation robe they wish to wear, something previously determined by gender.
“It’s not seated by gender, and people aren’t marching in by gender anymore,” said Anna Rhoda, a Foxcroft Academy sophomore.
Students who have gone to the conference before said the peer workshops show them they’re not alone in their efforts.
“It can feel, especially in rural communities, like you’re not going to be able to make a change because you’re by yourself, but when you do things like this you see that there’s hundreds of other people working for the same goal that you are,” said Brigid Casey, a Foxcroft Academy senior, joined by sophomore Maddie Taylor.
Maine’s Attorney General oversees the Civil Rights Team Project.
Event organizers hope the middle and high schoolers can take what they learn Friday back to their schools to help other students accept people of all race, gender identity, and religion.
“We think it’s important to specifically have these conversations because other people aren’t leading these conversations in our schools. We need students and engaged adults to talk about civil rights issues so that all of our students feel safe, welcome, and respected for who they are,” said Brandon Baldwin, the director of the Civil Rights Team Project.
He said there’s no cost to implement a new civil rights team for a school that doesn’t already have one. So anyone interested should have their teacher or principal reach out to the Maine Office of the Attorney General.