Student group marches to raise awareness of stereotypes
"Avatar" and "Fast and Furious" actress Michelle Rodriguez said she tries to avoid playing certain stereotypes in movies in an interview with nj.com.
Stereotypes in media is just one of many issues facing the Rutgers community, and was the focus of Wednesday night’s protest by members of the Rutgers Union Estudiantil Puertorriqueña.
"La Marcha" is a yearly event where members of the RUEP raise awareness of different issues. This year’s march was focused on “breaking stereotypes,” said Christopher Hernandez, a School of Arts and Sciences senior and RUEP’s president.
“Not so much the words (themselves), but the ideas in general, the ideas (people) carry with them about a certain gender, a certain race, a certain ethnicity ... whoever hears us,” he said. “That’s the purpose, for people to hear us ... and (start) thinking.”
These stereotypes could be as simple as educating people on the language they use, said Melvin Delvillar, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences sophomore and RUEP’s social chair. Many people casually use derogatory words without thinking about what effect these words may have on their listener. Bystanders may also be impacted.
Speakers may not even realize they are reinforcing stereotypes when they use negative language, Hernandez said.
“(People’s) words do have more of a profound affect than they think, especially when they carry stereotypes,” Delvillar said.
Alerting people about this issue was one goal of the march, Hernandez said. Sharing information about different stereotypes was another.
The march was promoted on each of the Rutgers—New Brunswick campuses, Delvillar said. While normally the event is held closer to finals, concerns about the weather led to this year’s march happening early in October.
“We chose to do it earlier in the semester so more people would be out and about,” Hernandez said. “(More people) are coming from class (or) going to the library than (there would be closer to winter).”
The march took place at night to allow classes to end, he said. The organization did not want to hold a protest while students were trying to learn, as that could be counterproductive.
“The whole purpose is to raise awareness of a social issue,” he said.
Delvillar said he considered the march to be a success given the turnout and panel discussion after the march.
This panel discussion was hosted by three students who also participated in the march, Hernandez said. They discussed their own experiences with stereotyping both on campus and in their everyday lives.
“It’s a panel discussion, so it’s a chance to reflect on what we just did,” Delvillar said. “We’re explaining this but not all of our members (may) understand to the full extent what they accomplished today.”
After the panelists spoke, the audience would have the opportunity to speak with each other about their own experiences, he said.
One of the panelists, Enovi Molina, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said stereotypes of Hispanic Americans in particular tend to follow a single mold.
Men are treated as being extremely “manly” with a negative connotation, she said. Likewise, women are generally small or minor.
Some actresses, such as Jennifer Lopez, are able to play other roles, but she is an exception rather than the rule, she said.
Prominent Hispanic Americans may be ignored outright by the media, she said. Despite being a Supreme Court justice, Sonia Sotomayor receives little press outside of her official duties.
Less famous people do not see even that much, she said.
Having just a few more people aware of the issues and their work than before the event began means there are that many more people involved with the cause, Delvillar said.
“Our focus wasn’t necessarily on race, color, our focus was on stereotypes in general,” he said. “It’s not so much that we’re protesting, we just want to raise awareness about the fact that stereotypes plague our community at Rutgers. We want to raise the issue that stereotypes exist.”
That does not mean there is no room for improvement, Hernandez said. While some people may have learned from the march, many may not have seen it at all.
“We’re glad whoever heard us (did so) whether it was one time (or) half a sentence,” he said.
The RUEP would host a few more events and fundraisers this semester focused on Puerto Rican issues specifically or Hispanic American causes generally, he said.
They would also work with other groups, including the Childhood Leukemia Society, Delvillar said.
“We want to raise awareness or make contributions ... (to) anything that affects people,” Hernandez said.
In the spring, the group will host “Huepa,” a multicultural talent show, Delvillar said. Participants would not need to hail from a certain region to be involved with this show.
“We’re open to all ethnicities, we’re open to all cultures,” Hernandez said. “We want to exemplify that in all of our events.”