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GROUPS AIM TO UNITE STUDENTS OF DIFFERENT CULTURES
STANFORD -- Half-Asian and half-white, Stanford University junior Junko Peterson grew up in Hawaii - and was used to interacting easily with people from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
Now, she and fellow students at Stanford are hoping to recreate that aloha spirit on campus - with a club that focuses on uniting students of different cultures in a comfortable, non- threatening atmosphere.
Now in its second quarter, "Cross Cultures" has about 50 members from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, including many, like Peterson, with mixed-race heritage. The group meets twice a month for informal cultural exchange nights at different locations on campus, depending on the culture they are exploring.
In the fall, they attended a mask-making party at the Chicano student center marking El Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. On another night, they heard a performance by students playing traditional Japanese drums, and had a discussion with Japanese American students about World War II internment.
In winter, they had a folk dancing night with performers from Stanford's Kuumba African dance ensemble and Sanskriti, the Indian American student organization.
The club also held a Chinese New Year celebration, hosted a Korean theme night where students tried their hands at traditional cooking techniques, and had plans for a Filipino theme night.
Nor is the group afraid to tackle potentially touchy subjects. In February it hosted a debate, attended by more than 50 students, on affirmative action's role in American life and Stanford admissions. Among the panelists were Admissions Dean James Montoya and students representing conservative and liberal groups on campus.
"A lot of students have said this is a really good idea," said Peterson, who is majoring in earth systems. "Most [ethnic] groups are enthusiastic about sharing their culture, but many students who are not in those groups do not feel comfortable just showing up at their meetings or parties.
"We provide a way for these students to connect. It's an opportunity for anyone to come."
Stanford students are more ethnically diverse than their counterparts at most similar institutions. In a recent survey by the American Council on Education, 57 percent of freshmen respondents described their racial background as white, compared with an average of 76 percent of students at other highly selective private universities.
Currently, about 52 percent of Stanford's total undergraduate population is white, 24 percent is Asian American, 11 percent is Chicano/Latino, 8 percent is African American, 4 percent is international, and 1 percent is Native American.
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