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Duo aim to abolish stereotypes

break the stereotypes pic

Stereotypes, though often wrong, can be an easy punchline for a joke. WeiChien Chan and Stéphane Picard aren't laughing.

Picard, from France, spent 10 months in St. John’s teaching two semesters worth of French at the Memorial. During this time, her and WeiChien Chan, from Malaysia, created the Break The Stereotypes project in March 2014 at Memorial. It was inspired by a project called “I, too, am Oxford,” which aims to deal with a sense of “communal disaffection that coloured students and Oxford have with the university” according to their website.

Chan and Picard met through the MUN Mentors program, where Chan mentored Picard. Chan thought up the idea of the project and called Picard, who was fully on-board. With Picard back in France, Chan is continuing the project at Memorial.

At its core, Break The Stereotypes aims to “celebrate diversity by attempting to dismantle stereotypes surrounding cultures,” WeiChien Chan said. “We want to create conversation among students on campus and in the broader community of St. John’s. It also attempts to expose the ways in which stereotypes – particularly stereotypes about different cultures – affect everyone on a daily basis.”

For Picard, making sure the project was made for and ran by students was important.
“It's an independent student initiative that encourages students to share stereotypes surrounding their cultures,” Picard said. “We hold photoshoot sessions in which everyone is encouraged to participate. The participants will then write a common stereotype that has been said to them or one that has often been rumoured about their culture.”

The initiative relies on Facebook as their main platform of outreach to share photos, as well as to organize photo exhibitions using donated spaces by local businesses to expand into the community of St. John’s.

Browsing through their Facebook page, one can read signs with a wide-range of topics from addressing Indian accents to poking holes in the stereotype between Newfoundlanders and a lack of intelligence.

Stereotypes can be harmful and can lead to discrimination and prejudice, according to Chan.
“The project hopes to create awareness of the richness of cultures that exist in the community and encourages the local community to rethink different stereotypes that do not reflect reality.”

For the France-born Picard, projects like this are important in all cities.
“Even though St. John’s might not be as cosmopolitan as larger cities like Toronto, Calgary or Vancouver, we do have a wide range of cultures living on the Rock. At MUN, we have about 1,500 international students from over 90 countries. That itself screams diversity and sadly sometimes creates stereotypes which lead to a divide between international and local students.”

With that in mind, Break the Stereotypes is set on trying to provide a platform for international students to clear the air, and hopefully the misconceptions associated with stereotypes. Chan said the campaign focuses on giving people “who might have been victims of stereotypes” a chance to voice out their opinion.

The project is not exclusively opened to international students, as stereotyping “happens both ways and there are various beliefs around Newfoundlanders and Canadians that are far from the truth,” Picard added. “We thus encourage both international and local students to engage in conversations to enable better understanding of cultures.”

The response from Memorial and the community at large has been great, according to Chan.
“Our project turned out to be way better than we expected it to thus far. We were surprised by the amount of participants taking part in the project and students seem really interested in the idea of it. We also received many requests from students abroad who were interested in taking part in the project even though they are not in St. John’s.”

So far, the project has held two major events in the community. Their first photo exhibition was held at Rocket Bakery, “who was extremely generous to donate their room to us” Picard added. The team then held their second exhibition at the Ecole des Grands Vents in St. John's.

Most recently, the project received an invitation to take part in the Bridgewater Afterglow Art Festival happening this coming fall “which we are extremely pumped about,” Chan said. “We hope to organize more photo exhibitions in the future and reach a wider audience.”

If you want to get involved with Break The Stereotypes, contact them on Facebook. The Bridgewater Afterglow Arts Festival will be held in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia on Sept. 27, 2014."

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