Diversity conference encourages dialogue

By By Rochelle McConkie

By Rochelle McConkie

The message of dialogue as a means of promoting social change resonated throughout the Conference on Social Awareness held on Saturday in the Union.

The Associated Students of the University of Utah Diversity Board sponsored the third annual diversity conference. After being held in the Residence Halls for the past two years, the event was moved to the Union for better student access.

The theme of the daylong conference was “community impacting change,” and it featured a number of workshops and panels that encouraged discussion about diversity.

“Before, diversity was viewed as a cultural fair–a ‘food, fest and fun’ celebration. We wanted to move it to address issues of diversity, shedding light on issues that are not normally shed light on, especially in higher education,” said Dhiraj Chand, ASUU diversity director.

The mission statement of the Diversity Board is to create safe spaces for every student on campus through education.

Chand said one of the problems at the U is that departments create positions for diversity, but the institution does not promote diversity itself. “(They create the positions) just so they don’t have to think about it,” Chand said.

Conference participants were encouraged to examine their own identities and roles in the community as ways to create change. Speakers consisting of U faculty, students and representatives from outside organizations addressed issues of race, gender, sexuality, class and privilege.

Workshops consisted of small group discussions. Jol Arvizo, a graduate student in the college of education and director of last year’s conference, said, “It’s the things that we don’t talk about that are so detrimental to society and are so hurtful.”

While conference directors projected that about 130 students would attend, about 95 students registered throughout the day. Rivaling a U basketball game at the same time, Chand said the event is “struggling” and that he hopes more students will get involved in these issues.

Several student government candidates were also in attendance, including representatives from the Rick Pehrson/Clayton McDonald campaign and the Spencer Pearson/Basim Motiwala campaign.

Peer facilitators from a newly formed pilot program through Housing and Residential Education also presented at the conference. These students will lead discussions throughout campus and in the Residence Halls about religion and religious diversity; gender and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender issues; and citizenship and nationality.

The peer facilitators began training last semester. This semester, the group will lead floor dialogues; conduct interviews and training with resident advisers (RAs); display posters, artwork and bulletin boards promoting diversity; and plan events and themed months. February will have events in coordination with Black History Month and March will be Women’s Rights Month.

“Lack of awareness of social issues is a major problem,” said D.J. Painter, a freshman facilitator studying physics and math. “A significant portion of the Residence Halls and the U in general are not aware.”

The goal of the peer facilitators is to get people thinking about diversity issues.

“Thinking and talking are the two most powerful tools,” said Quentin Newkirk, a freshman linguistics major and a peer facilitator. “When talking and getting things out in the open, it allows people to change.”