With a theme of “Unite For Justice,” this year’s Conference on Diverse Excellence (C.O.D.E) brought approximately 150 students together in the Union on Feb. 1 to create dialogue and build consciousness around systems of oppression, privilege and solidarity through a social justice lens.
C.O.D.E is an annual conference hosted by the Diversity Board with ASUU since 2005. This year, C.O.D.E took place on the first day of National Black History month. After months of planning, Diversity Board members kicked off the conference with a series of student group/staff-led workshops.
For Athena Schwartz, a sophomore Health Promotion and Education major and an associate director of the Diversity Board, C.O.D.E is important to “showcase how diversity is embedded on our campus while retaining our individual cultures and identities.” The theme “Unite For Justice” focuses on “bringing peoples of diverse backgrounds together in order to educate, uplift and support one another.”
To go with the theme, conference participants actively engaged in breakout sessions and panel discussions centered around “unpacking privilege, building on support systems and confronting unseen biases.” Several of the workshops aimed to specifically address how the University of Utah can directly promote diversity and inclusive practices on campus. Workshop topics ranged from issue areas such as “Family Violence Across the Lifespan” and “Islamophobia: Let’s Talk About It” to “Business School: Inclusive Practices” and “Uniting Your Identity With Your Career.”
Following these workshops, participants attended an interview-style dialogue with Blair Imani, C.O.D.E’s keynote speaker. Imani identifies as black, queer and Muslim. In addition to being a writer, public speaker and ambassador of Muslims for Progressive Values, one of the oldest progressive Muslim organizations to support the LGBTQ+ community, Imani is also a published author, with her premier book “Modern HERstory: Stories of Women and Nonbinary People Rewriting History.”
Imani’s keynote speech involved sharing personal stories about supporting queer Muslims, girls and women, the black community and the LGBTQ community. According to a statement on the Diversity Board website, Imani “has dedicated herself to changing people’s perceptions of critical issues in the world, always bringing a fresh take to the table.”
Imani also offered advice on several topics directly relevant to U students, including how students can attempt to dismantle discrimination in institutions and how to make a positive change in communities both on and off of campus. Hate crime on college campuses was also a topic of interest for many audience members.
“We have faced more racist posters and banners on campus as recent as just last week. We have faced people trying to tear down diversity events, yet we have also been able to connect to more people than ever before. Sometimes it seems as though much of our community is divided, but we are here to bring it together,” Schwartz told the audience.
“As we sit here on occupied land with many people feeling separated or divided and some needing to hide their identities just in order to be safe, it is important to unite and fight for justice for all,” Schwartz said. “All people of all identities belong, but hate has no home here.”