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Pa. college students stare race in the face

December 07, 2006|by KATE S. ALEXANDER

MONT ALTO, PA. - With the click of a button on the Human Race Machine, Penn State Mont Alto sophomore Amy Gloss' face changed from Caucasian to Asian. With a second click, her freckles melted into 40 years of wrinkles, drooping skin and age spots. After a final click on the machine's buttons, her perceptions of race, age and disability changed forever.

"The machine shows that we are all alike except for one or two characteristics. It's amazing that people hate each other over those one or two little things," she said.

For the last few days, students at Penn State Mont Alto were given the opportunity to see what they would be like if circumstances in their life had given them a different face. Taking only a few minutes, the Human Race Machine photographs and maps faces, superimposes specific facial characteristics and shows users how they would look as a different race or age or with a facial disorder.

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From the outside, the Human Race Machine does not appear like a cultural experiment, but rather looks like a fixture in the mall.

"I thought it was like a picture machine from the mall," Gloss said.

However, students say that on the inside, the machine has the ability to change perceptions of race, culture and circumstance.

Unlike mall photo booths that take pictures and give souvenir printouts, the Human Race Machine allows users to interactively map their face and select the degree of race, age or disorder to blend into their face.

Julie DeMoss, student activities coordinator for Penn State Mont Alto, arranged for the machine to be brought to the campus.

"The machine is a good tool to teach students about racial similarities that is also fun," she said.

Most students who tried the machine found it to be a fun experience.

"I did it twice," sophomore Melanie Prempeh said. "It is really cool."

While the enjoyment of using the machine is part of its draw, Mark Burnett, student body president, said the machine helps the cultural organizations on campus spread messages of equality.

"Many of our organizations spread the message that we are all the same so we should not judge," he explained. "This machine proves that when it comes to race there are no genetic differences, we are all the same."

For some students, seeing their face deformed by disorder was more difficult than seeing it as a different race.

"I was embarrassed to see my face that way," freshman Sara Beletti said as she turned away from a picture of herself with a deviated septum. "It is scary."

DeMoss said the machine also allows two users to see what their potential children would look like.

Holly Cieri, the campus public relations manager, said the machine will be available in the campus dining hall through Friday and is open to the public.

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