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Placer High club celebrates differences

Group is safe place for those who feel discriminated against, vice president says
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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A new club is hoping to celebrate the differences of Placer High students. Placer High seniors Hayley Hanley, 17, and Connor Soejoto, 17, along with staff adviser Christy Dyer, formed the Gay Straight Alliance Club in November. “We used to have a club called the Tolerance Club a few years ago … so, it’s kind of been something we have needed for a long time – a club that is very open and celebrates differences,” Dyer said. Hanley, who is the president of the club and started it for her senior project, said there were a couple reasons why she wanted to found the organization. “I felt it was necessary for Placer High to have a group (students) could come to and be open with,” Hanley said. “As an openly gay student I felt it was necessary, also. I think it will help raise awareness, and it will help educate in the long run.” There are currently about 30 to 40 students in the club. Soejoto said the club is open to anyone and will probably morph into a more general group in the future. “It was a joint effort between (Hayley and I),” Soejoto said. “The reason why we formed the club is primarily to form a club on campus for any student who has ever felt discriminated against. We are probably going to turn it into a tolerance club.” Soejoto said as an openly gay student, he has never felt supported by a specific club on campus, and he is hoping to change that for the students who will still be at the school after he graduates. “The second (reason we formed the club) is for it to be there for every student that I can’t be there to protect,” he said. This week the club is participating in an anti-slur campaign. On Thursday club members are going to write negative and stereotypical labels that they feel have been attached to them in the past. The students then plan to wear these labels around campus. On Friday the students plan to shred these labels and create positive labels to wear. “It’s to represent that everyone on the campus feels they are labeled as something,” Hanley said. “On Friday when we shred, we are representing taking them off and letting them go.” The campaign is a good way to help students understand the negative connotations attached to some common words, Dyer said. “It’s encouraging people to become more conscious of the language they use every day that could be habitual, that could possibly hurt someone,” Dyer said. “Isn’t there a better way to say what you are saying than to disparage someone?” On Wednesday more than 20 students gathered near Placer High’s auditorium to take a club picture. Each student wore a solid-colored shirt to create the end result of a rainbow. “It’s a gesture of support and a visual reminder of people’s differences in a beautiful way,” Dyer said. Hanley said she thought the rainbow photograph provided a more exciting way to represent the club rather than students wearing the clothes they normally do. Freshman Vanessa Pohley, 14, who is a member of the club, said the group offers a positive place for students who feel their differences are discriminated against. “I think it’s important, because there are a lot of kids who do go through bullying and hardships, and it can end up bad,” Pohley said. “It’s nice to have a place that is open and accepting.” Freshman Sophia Juarez, 14, said she is considering joining the club, and feels it’s a good way to understand others. “It’s a good way to see where they are coming from … what their situation is,” Juarez said. Hanley said the intensity of modern-day bullying, because it affects everyone, is one of the reasons why the club is so important. “Bullying is a main target we are (working on) right now,” she said. “We are not necessarily doing things about being gay right now, because we are trying to include the whole campus.” Soejoto said he hopes the group’s activities will help get the word out about the club and its purpose. “With the club as a whole, we are trying to branch out and show the school we are not a group that just sits in a room and talks about things,” he said. “That’s the point of our entire campaign this week. I hope that it is going to show other students we are here and kind of bring more awareness of our struggle and what we are trying to promote.” Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com