I am a white, middle class woman from Salt Lake City, Utah, so I got a few doubtful looks when I told people I was coordinating a diversity event. After months of being immersed in diversity related issues, though, I’ve come to realize that diversity is more than a buzzword. Yes, I am a white middle class woman. However, not being Mormon in a state where Mormonism is the defining trait, I learned what being a minority feels like. I had friends whose parents didn’t like me because I wasn’t Mormon when I was only 8 years old. So my point to people who’ve asked me about why I coordinated DiverseU is that no matter who you are, you can be in the majority in one situation, and a minority in another. My overall goal for DiverseU was to help people understand their roles as both majorities and minorities.
It’s hard to tell if DiverseU accomplished this goal, though. We certainly had large crowds at some of our presentations, but this was often because teachers required their classes to go. Did students attend the presentations and then leave as quickly as possible, without actually hearing what the presenters said? Or, were they there originally for the grade, but left with a new perspective on diversity? Day of Dialogue, now DiverseU, is gearing up for its tenth year, so I know that it’s had enough of an impact to stick around. These conversations are important to have, but they are not as important as the action they should prompt.
Though I spoke of being both a majority and minority, I haven’t received racist comments like Native Americans have on our own campus. I certainly haven’t been bullied for being straight. I haven’t had to deal with accessibility issues in the snow. And I haven’t had to deal with PTSD while I take classes, like our veterans do.
In my opinion, the University of Montana has two issues: one, we don’t have a lot of diversity. According to Forbes, 85% of the campus is white. With a lack of diversity comes a lack of different perspectives, which worsens everyone’s learning experience. That said, our other issue is we don’t have the proper resources for those who do make our campus more diverse. The University of Montana has veterans, Native Americans, LGBTQI, and disabled students who contribute to our campus. I think that if we want to make the campus more diverse, we need to focus on improving the condition for those diverse groups who are already on campus.
Each of these groups need individual initiatives to improve their conditions and frankly, I’m not in the position to suggest what those initiatives should be. What campus needs to do is listen to these groups and their requests, and then do something about it. I may be biased, but I think DiverseU has the potential to be a venue for this; DiverseU is already a place for anyone to present his or her perspective on his or her own diversity related issue. The problem is that the administration, which has the power to make campus more inviting to all sorts of diverse groups, doesn’t attend these sessions. If we can start getting administration to listen to these perspectives, it would be better prepared to make changes on campus that would lead us to a truly diverse, welcoming community.
– Kathleen Stone, J-School student and one of the organizers of DiverseU