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What People Are Saying

From: The Current

Connecting Human Origin and Cultural Diversity Program shows children similarities of people of all colors

by Amy Lombardo 
staff editor

Often in today's society, a lot of emphasis is placed on the differences in human beings. UMSL has a program that chooses to focus on the similarities.

The Connecting Human Origin and Cultural Diversity Program(CHOCD) is located on campus, on the first and fourth floors of Clark Hall. Since its start last May, more than 1,500 people have participated in the program. It is designed for grade school and high school levels, but also hosts undergraduates, graduates and adults.

Students learn through a combination of hands-on activities, discussion and visual aids like timelines, fossil casts and authentic African artifacts. Some topics include variations in skin color, the theory of evolution, and the biology of humans.

Jacquelyn A. Lewis-Harris is the director of CHOCD. She says that their goal is education for all people.

"It shows [people] how they can apply some of the basics of anthropology to everyday life and it gives them a totally different view of looking at people," Lewis-Harris said. "I think one of the most important things is that it doesn't make physical anthropology scary, because [people] came up imagining, 'Oh, god, this is going to be dull!'"

The CHOCD invites students from St. Louis area public and private schools. The groups visit the labs on Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. during the regular school year, and arrangements can also be made for the summer months. The Program is currently looking to expand to three days a week, which will create part-time jobs for UM-St. Louis students.

After the children arrive, they are taken through a series of activities organized into two labs. On the fourth floor of Clark Hall in the Human Origin Lab there is an interactive discussion on why people have the complexion that they do. A large map of the Earth and photographs of various individuals are used as props. Each child is given a photo and is asked to pin it on the map in the area they believe the person was born, based solely on skin color. At the other end of the room, there is another project, this one taking a look at fossil casts of bones from the members of the human family.

"What happens when [the visitors] come through the center is that they find out by bone structure and fossil records that they are all related," Lewis-Harris said.

Downstairs on the first floor, the visitors participate in the craft of measuring and physically structuring their own forearm bones out of clay. This activity shows the children how they are all made up of the same basic parts.

"The children have a better awareness of themselves, and have a better awareness of how they fit into the big picture," Lewis-Harris said. "They realize how much they have in common as opposed to what is different."

The African Cultures Lab takes a journey through Africa, looking at a set-up of typical homelife in modern Kenya, the Hunter's Association Headquarters, the landscape of wild territory, and the role of women in villages. There is access to assorted tools where the children can try tasks such as corn husking, dancing, storytelling, instruments and music.

"[The children] get an idea of what it is like in the mixed environment of contemporary Africa," Lewis-Harris said.