HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) — A program designed to teach about and help students combat prejudice held its inaugural summit for the Hampton Roads region.

The Prejudice Awareness Summit was hosted by the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities. Jessica Hawthorne, who is the director of programs, said the summit has been taking place since 2001 and was originally started by Jewish Women International before the center took over.

For two days, around 75 students and staff from schools all over the area came together to discuss the issue.

“The whole day is about breaking that cycle of prejudice. If we know where that prejudice comes from, we can take action to stop it,” she said.

Hawthorne says its the first year they’ve conducted a virtual event. Prior to the pandemic, the summit would be held in-person in a conference style.

While holding the event virtually is a major change, the topics they discuss are still the same despite the increased attention to racial issues over the summer.

“The national conversation on race this summer has brought things back to the forefront but frankly, these are some issues students have been bringing up for years. It’s not just happening this summer. It’s just that more people are talking about it. There are certainly students who are talking about it and want to combat that prejudice,” she said.

The summit is geared toward middle school students and is put on for schools and districts around the state.

Hawthorne says despite their young ages, students are already accustomed to dealing with prejudice.

“No matter what age group I work with, they know their experience. They are experts in their experiences,” she said.

The summit allows students to come together and work through these problems and learn how they can bring solutions back to their schools.

Hawthorne says the summit is also beneficial because it shows them that they’re not alone.

“To have other people recognize there are other people experiencing this or want to support and help break this cycle is incredibly helpful,” she said.

To learn more about the center and the summit, click here.

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