Near-Peer Mentoring Program Chapters across 23 states participate in campaign to Strike-Out Stigma
“Winner goes first!” On a March Monday in Brooklyn, Mentees Keith and Nef joyfully decided who would get to strike out stigma first in a rock, paper, scissors tournament. A few moments later, Keith stepped up to a tape line holding a community-decorated beach ball covered in written affirmations like “I am not lazy, I am hardworking,” “I am doing the best I can,” and “I am good at many things.” As Mentors and Mentees cheered, Keith “bowled,” rolling the affirmation-covered ball to knock down Mentee-designed pins with stigmas about learning differently.
As part of Eye to Eye’s larger celebration and recognition of National Disability Awareness Month, our Near-Peer Mentoring Program Chapters across 23 states participated in the Strike-Out Stigma Bowling Project this March, a creative twist on confronting the stigmas surrounding neurodivergent learning. The project begins with a community discussion about stigma, identifying experiences of stigma through story sharing and declaring the harmful effects of stigma. Mentees and Mentors work together to identify stigmas around neurodivergence that they have experienced or heard and write those stigmas on or inside cups. By taping the cups together, they create bowling pins that represent the stigmas attached to learning differently. Then, Mentees and Mentors collaborate to identify affirmations and statements that they can use to confront stigma when they hear or experience it. The game that follows is familiar– bowling– but the message behind striking down stigma pins with affirmations is powerful, as is the conversation that comes before and after.
For several Mentees at The Boerum Hill School for International Studies Chapter, stigma was a new word– until Lillianna, a Mentor, shared a story about a middle school teacher who told her she was lazy and needed to work harder. Anchored in the shared lived experience of learning differently in inclusive classroom spaces, Lillianna’s reflections about the stigmas she heard in middle school and emphasis on the untruth of that statement connected the concept of stigma to experiences that the Mentees themselves had lived. Once Lillianna shared her story, there were no more questions about what stigma means or feels like– just community-wide excitement to create and strike out the harmful experiences of stigma among neurodivergent peers!