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Topics / EDUCATION : Campers to Confront Prejudices : Weeklong retreat promotes tolerance among young people. About 100 high school students are expected to attend.

August 18, 1994|TALLY GOLDSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ana Viruetta, a 16-year-old Latina, is not the sort of student usually targeted by the Brotherhood/Sister Camp. After all, she says, she is open-minded and accepting of all types of people, no matter their race, gender or sexual preference.

But the Azusa High School senior will be among 100 students from Southern California at the weeklong camp beginning Saturday designed to encourage high school students to admit, confront and change racist, sexist or homophobic attitudes.

It can be difficult to entice students with deep-seated prejudices, said camp spokesman Jerry Freedman Habush o a fair number will be open-minded youths such as Viruetta. Most who attend learn of the program through school counselors, multicultural groups or ethnic studies teachers. Others hear about it from friends or through word of mouth.

"I'm not racist, but I want to voice my opinion," Viruetta said. "We're all equal, and no one should have different treatment because of who they are."

Tina Wong, a senior from Monterey Park who will also attend the program, said she expects to deal with racism as a Chinese American.

"I'd like it for no one to see differences, but that's impossible," she said. In Wong's family, at least, ethnic divisions are not an issue: Her mother is dating a Latino man, and her brother's best friend is black.

"Racism is not as bad as it could be," Wong said of her experiences. "But even I sometimes have preconceived notions about people because of their race."

At the camp, located north of Yucaipa, students meet in both racially divided and racially mixed groups to discuss their prejudices. The program has been criticized by some parents for dividing students by race, but Habush said the practice is important in learning tolerance.

"You can't teach kids to respect someone else's racial and ethnic identity until they learn to value their own," he said. "We encourage them to identify themselves within a group, so they can feel secure in opening themselves up to other groups."

The $200 program, sponsored by the non-sectarian National Conference of Christians and Jews, will be held in the San Bernardino Mountains from Saturday through Aug. 26. In most cases, the tuition is split by the schools and public or private organizations that sponsor students. Other students pay their own tuition or reach some arrangement with organizers if they can establish they cannot repay the tuition.

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