One Story Becoming Peer Leader Provided Knowledge, Skills, and Resources

Each year, the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires directs some of your campaign dollars to support efforts within the local community to combat bias and build bridges. Domenica Gomez participated in the initial Berkshire County rollout of A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Institute peer training, which is presented in partnership by the Federation, the Anti-Defamation League’s New England office, and the Berkshire County Superintendents’ Roundtable. At Federation’s Major Donor Celebration last July, Domenica shared her experience as a peer leader.

By Domenica Gomez

I am a proud graduate of the class of 2019 at Lenox High School. I am delighted to be here today to share experiences from my senior year as a peer leader in ADL’s peer training program.

Before I became a peer leader, I did not understand where all the stigmas towards different kinds of identities came from. I remember thinking that most stereotypes I would see on social media, TV, and basically everyday life, were true. Then, I found myself on the receiving end of prejudice and biased assumptions based on my physical appearance and it began to change my perspective. Many times in my life, I have been identified as an Indian woman. One time someone made this assumption just because I was buying an elephant-shaped piggy bank for my friend’s birthday. A man came up to me and asked if I was Indian stating: “Because Indians like elephants.”

While this is only one example of assumptions people have made about my nationality or ethnicity, I know that interaction was not unique. Categorizing people based on physical appearance, financial status, race, nationality, gender, sexuality, religious beliefs and even making connections between who people are and what they purchase, is something that a lot of people do. Even though I wasn’t deeply offended in the store that day, it made me think about how many assumptions people make about who each of us is.

The peer training program provided me with the knowledge, skills, and resources to help myself and others learn how to recognize and address prejudice when it occurs and support those who are targeted. Learning about the divisive systems in our society and how to address them has allowed me to get out of my comfort zone, open-up about my own experiences, and learn from others. Participating in this program as an Ecuadorian immigrant, in a country with a completely different language, culture, and diversity of people, has allowed me to understand people’s different backgrounds and accept and respect diverse perspectives.

Along with the other values I mentioned, one of the most important things I learned throughout the training program is to be tolerant and work to create inclusion.

The Peer Training Program allows students to have conversations that need to be had not just in our community, but everywhere. I wish I could have had these discussions at a younger age, but I am glad that this program will help other generations gain knowledge and understand why we should respect each other always. 

I think it is so important, especially during high school, when everyone is trying to figure themselves out and there are so many social expectations and pressures. Learning about each other and promoting acceptance for everyone can help all of us understand that no one needs to change parts of their identity for others to like them and instead, we should all embrace what makes us different. My goal as a peer leader is to help my peers from our community gain this knowledge as soon as possible, so they can work to understand the people that surround them. This is such important work for human beings, helping us to grow as people and improving our well-being.

Danika Manso-Brown, the associate education director at the ADL, and Ms. Porter and Mr. Wade, our program advisors at Lenox High School, had a great influence, taught us so much, and really helped us in the process of becoming peer leaders. I wish I could be a part of the training program and participate next year, but it’s my turn to move on. I am absolutely going to use the knowledge and the leadership values I learned not just in college, but for the rest of my life!!!

Thank you to ADL and the Berkshire County Superintendents’ Roundtable for introducing A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE into our schools. And a special thank you to the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires for providing funding to support the program in Berkshire County.

Domenica Gomez is currently a freshman at MCLA in North Adams majoring in International Business.