Yesterday at the University of South Alabama, the College of Arts and Sciences Diversity Committee hosted their long-awaited campus wide event: Explore Diversity of Campus Open Mic Dialogue. We had planned this activity since the Fall. Our main goal was to open an honest uncensored dialogue on campus to explore issues related to diversity.
We knew we wanted an activity but we toyed with several options about the program. Then, one day we had this idea of not having a program but rather put white boards or white sheets of paper on the walls with prompts for people to write their thoughts and a microphone.
We also had a small panel consisting of Jim Mather, Mamun Siddiq, Dr. Michael Mitchell, Terri McCray, Student Senator at USA, Sara Jernfalt, student at USA, and myself. I confess that I would have preferred to be on the sidelines on this one as the format was more informal than the presentations I am used to. Therefore, I always have a speech that I have practiced. However, yesterday I fumbled my words and feel I made little or no sense but we picked a very laid back format so in a way, it was okay.
We had a great event. I was really happy to see so many of my students representing the Visual Arts. Of course, it helps that I made it an extra credit activity which was a nice incentive. However, considering that some of them did not even need the points, I am really pleased. I even hugged them when I saw them! It meant a lot that the majority of my students talked and contributed to the dialogue.
Jim Mathers made some amazing points yesterday. He spoke freely of what he believes diversity is and I have to add, he had the most encouraging words for me at one moment when I talked about a painful experience regarding my accent. I felt like God was talking to me and telling me that I have nothing to be ashamed for; not my accent, not my sensitivity, not my emotions and the way I show them, nothing. It was like BAM! Here you go! It was also beautiful to see my students rallying for me when I was talking. I felt so supported by them. It was a very warm moment. But Jim’s words were also for everybody in the room. There was such wisdom in his words and so much affirmation for everyone.
At one moment, while talking about diversity, Jim reminded everybody that in Revelations, the Bible talks about every nation coming together to celebrate the Lord in a big banquet. He said that he likes to dream backwards and added this;
http://letscleanva.com/user-reviews-2/ If that is the future, why can’t I start living like that now?
He then went on to say that there are four questions to ask to help each other be more of a community:
Your Domain Name Share with me, who you are?
Show me, how do you celebrate?
Tell me, how do you deal with sorrow?
Tell me, what do you believe? What are your values, your family values?
Because these questions help us build the dream and the hope for the future.
He also said that proximity does not create diversity. To create diversity we need to be wiling to be uncomfortable. And he asked us if we are willing to be part of the answer to the dream? Because, Jim added, “our differences are not meant to divide us but to unite us by creating a culture of honor.” Lastly, but not least, he added that we needed to keep an open mind, be willing to acknowledge that other people have values, listen to each other, and believe in a loving God.
Mamun Siddiq made some great points too about how to break cultural and ignorant barriers. He was funny but you could tell determination could be his middle name. He was a breath of fresh air. At the end, I taught him to say a few more things in Spanish to add to his repertoire to sound more legit when he told someone that he was from Puerto Rico. I hope he uses them! Mamum said something very interesting too. He said:
Diversity is an idea, it is a challenge, and it is a dream.
Well said Mamun!
The students also had beautiful things to say. Terri compared diversity to a salad and that metaphor stayed with us throughout the day. Sara talked about how much she has grown since arriving to USA from Sweden. She mentioned how sharing her life with others have taught her much about herself and others. One example she gave was how one day they all talked about the things they eat for breakfast. It was very heartwarming to hear students talking at such level of maturity.
Dr. Mitchell also contributed great things to the conversation but I think the most important thing he said was the University was committed to develop a strategic plan addressing diversity but to keep it alive and not just a piece of paper or a page on the website. That resonated with everybody. And then he said this:
Diversity has to be intentional.
Throughout the day many people came to the mic to just say what they thought. Some were good experiences, other not so good, and even painful ones. But that was what we wanted; a day to just talk, to share how we feel, how it is like to be a minority or a majority, and how we all feel about things. We did not want to censor anything and that was a big risk given recent events on campuses across the country. However, what I saw yesterday was hunger and thirst to talk about these things, to share our experiences, and to be heard. I think one of the most important lessons yesterday was this: LISTEN.
I talked about how Puerto Rico came to be an US Commonwealth and how that affected us when relocating to the Continental USA. We are US citizens but not treated as equals in many instances. I talked about being fluently bilingual, having an accent, and how that has been the source of painful interactions.
Diane Gibbs was our MC and she stayed with us all day. She is great as a talk show host! Back in February 27th, at our local student conference Flourish put by AIGA Mobile, I saw her being the MC for the panel of professionals. That was when I decided to ask her to be our MC. She was not only good at keeping the conversation going but also merciless when it came to the timer. I loved that. She graciously accepted being our MC and she did a great job!
Lastly, the Diversity committee members were also very active in the activity and I have to say that we have bonded through this experience. Somehow working throughout the year for this event has brought us closer in a special way. I am very glad we all know each other better and built something together. We now look back and say to each other, we did it! We did it and it was good! Being the first time, we know we have things to improve on for the next year but if I have learned something about this group, is that we are unstoppable.
Here are photos of the event and the white board sheets where people wrote their thoughts. Enjoy!