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Students gather around fire to share and burn racial and ethnic slurs in event for UMC's Unity Week called Burning of the Epithets Credit: Jessie Mao , Jessie Mao

Wednesday evening, Penn students and community members gathered on College Green to literally burn away their pain and frustration.

The event, called “Burning of the Epithets,” was planned by the United Minorities Council as part of Unity Week in an effort to encourage those impacted by negative stereotypes of race, gender, social status or sexuality.

Attendees grouped around a fire pit and shared epithets that had impacted their lives, wrote them down and tossed the papers into the fire. They were then treated to hot chocolate and cupcakes in a supportive environment.

Chris Cruz, College junior and chairman of the UMC, said it was an opportunity to “come together in solidarity” with others who had been hurt by racism or bigotry.

“We can stand and hear each other out on our experiences with epithets and literally burn them away,” he said.

Although the event focused on negative experiences, College sophomore and UMC Programming Chairman Chris Noble anticipated that the experience would leave attendees feeling uplifted.

“I hope people walk away empowered,” he said. “They don’t have to let epithets affect their lives.”

The shared stereotypes covered issues from workplace or sexual discrimination to racial slurs. Participants burned words like “terrorist” and “faggot” to represent instances they felt judged, insulted or mistreated.

Attendee Fatimah Muhammad, a 2006 College graduate, burned the word “welfare.”

“I want to burn this idea that poor people are despicable,” Muhammad, associate director of the Greenfield Intercultural Center, said. “It tends to be something to be ashamed of. That’s what haunts people.”

GALLERY: Photos of ‘Burning of the Epithets

The event seemed to accomplish its main goal — most attendees appreciated being able to open up to others with negative experiences.

“You could say what you felt, and it made you think in different ways,” College sophomore Stephen Ahn said. He added that the event made him feel more capable of understanding others’ perspectives.

Graduate School of Education student Lucie Lu said she thinks it is healthy for people to have such an outlet for their frustration. “We tend to keep silent. We pretend like everything’s alright,” she said. “This is really the only way for people to know the truth and promote mutual understanding.”

Noble thought Wednesday night’s event played a crucial role in the overall goal of Unity Week.

“The theme of this week is ‘power.’ Burning those words left people empowered,” he said. “They can conquer those stereotypes.”

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