Statistics show that social isolation affects people as negatively physically as smoking does. Social isolation not only impacts one’s mental health in the short term, but has long term impacts both physically and mentally.
Many students over the course of middle school and high school will, at some point, experience the feeling of social isolation either through difficult friend group dynamics, social media, or cyberbullying. Beyond Differences, a student led group, is working with middle school and high school students to spread awareness of and stop social isolation which has become an increasing problem in the age of technology.
Senior Lily Moser is an active participant in Beyond Differences. She first heard of the organization after attending a preliminary Beyond Differences assembly in sixth grade which made an impact on her. She joined the LATP program (Leadership Academy Training Program) later that year after a guidance counselor sent out a letter explaining what the organization was and how to get involved. Since then, Beyond Differences has become one of her passions.
“I’m someone who’s really passionate about a lot of political issues, but I particularly like Beyond Differences because of its focus on social inclusion. Kids [are] feeling excluded or isolated [which] is a growing problem with cyberbullying and the emergence of social media in general,” Moser said.
The LATP program is the Beyond Differences program for middle schoolers. However, as a high schooler now, Moser is on the Team Board. As a Team Board member, Moser goes to middle school assemblies and talks to students about social isolation. She has talked to medical professionals and school boards about social isolation awareness as well. In addition, she helps to plan marches done by Beyond Differences, such as the one that took place in Oakland on Sunday, March 11.
“The idea behind it was to promote social inclusion on a big platform, almost like a social movement, rather than just doing interactive assemblies with middle schoolers,” Moser said.
According to Moser, the march was not meant to be exclusive to members of Beyond Differences. Students who were not part of Beyond Differences were encouraged to come as well. Sophomore Sophia Prescott, another member of Beyond Differences, was at the march as well.
“We encouraged people who weren’t part of our organization to join the march with us. It was a walk to tell people that social isolation is bad, and it’s something that should be fought against, especially in middle schools. It was to bring awareness,” Prescott said.
Prescott has been a member of Beyond Differences since the beginning of this school year. She joined because like many other students, she remembers feeling socially isolated in middle school.
“You have your times where you go through good phases and you go through bad phases where you feel like you don’t fit in, where you’re not really friends with anyone or you don’t really like your friends or you feel isolated. I definitely know that feeling, I think that was definitely a big thing that drove me to join the cause,” Prescott said.
Beyond Differences targets middle and high school students to bring awareness to social isolation.
“A lot of times in social situations people can’t spot socially isolated students or aren’t aware of the impact their social instincts have on other students. If you can see the impact your actions have [on other students], you can also see the impact other people’s actions have [on others] and remedy the situation,” Moser said.
According to Moser, after giving an assembly at Mill Valley Middle School, a teacher’s aide who helped a disabled student came up to her and told her about the impact her words on social isolation and awareness had on the students there. The teacher’s aid told her that the disabled student was always alone at lunch times because nobody would sit with her. Immediately after the assembly however, students were sitting with her and making sure she felt included.
“[The teacher’s aid] said it was pretty impactful to see the direct response that students have when they become more aware of the issue and how a simple little awareness can actually mean the difference between a student feeling isolated and included,” Moser said.
This event exemplified the message that Beyond Differences tries to spread to students.
“Our main priority is teaching kids how to be socially aware and being able to stand up against [situations] that make them socially uncomfortable and make them feel as if someone’s being excluded. It’s all about awareness and empowerment,” Moser said.
Students wishing to get involved in Beyond Differences can apply by filling out the application form located on the Beyond Differences website.