With a growing number of racial, sexual and social identities represented at the University of Idaho, many are striving to recognize this change.
One of the steps recently taken was the Cultural Literacy and Competence Symposium held late last month. Executive Director of Tribal Relations Yolanda Bisbee said that in the panel, student voices discussed micro-aggressions and shared stories about their experiences with them on campus.
“We then turn around and say, “What are we doing at the university to make sure that these things aren”t happening, and how can we, as a campus, be better at supporting our students?”” she said.
Bisbee said the President”s Diversity Council and its six sub-committees advise UI President Chuck Staben on diversity issues. She said that this council was present at the symposium to listen to student and faculty voices, engage those concerns and take note of such experiences.
“The conference (was) about listening,” Bisbee said. “About having those difficult conversations, and then figuring out “Well what do we do about that?””
Bisbee said the first symposium was held in 2014 and dedicated to Jane Baillargeon, a staff member who worked to create the symposium but passed away before it took place. She said that those in charge of the event intend for it to be held annually in the future.
“We”re already thinking of things that we need to be doing next year,” she said. “In order to be strategic, you”ve got to make sure you”re doing it.”
Looking toward the future is another reason why students such as Izaiah Dolezal, ASUI director of Diversity Affairs, have gotten involved in events like the symposium.
“In an area like this, it”s important to remember our place in the world,” Dolezal said. “At the advent of the internet and globalization, we”re interconnected whether we want to be or not.”
Dolezal said working with people from all over the world is something more and more jobs require, and although this connectedness seems to mean all are working toward a common goal, it is important to bring differences to the surface and recognize and respect them.
“It”s the diversity that we bring to the table that make a program better, because you then have all these different view-points and perspectives,” he said.
Dolezal said that as the director of Diversity Affairs, he creates an event each semester that offers cultural competency training to all members of UI. He said this semester, he chose to collaborate with others such as the Office of Multicultural Affairs, The Women”s Center and the LGBTQA Office to build this year”s symposium.
“”Building Inclusive Communities” is a sub-caption of the symposium,” Dolezal said. “It”s essentially learning how to work together, and keep your uniqueness, but remember that you”re a part of something else as well.”
Embracing our individual differences, and using those differences to build inclusive communities is what Adonay Berhe works toward.
“At the end of the day, no matter how hard you try to relate to someone, you really can”t,” said Berhe, UI junior and president of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). “It”s important to get the “customer”s point of view” so that we”ll be able to give the proper feedback, and correct the thing that need correction, or embellish the ones that are already working.”
Berhe said that, as a member of the student panel at the symposium, he continued to discuss transitions that have already been discussed with Staben, such as creating more space for the Office of Multicultural Affairs.
“You would have all these different offices, and though you share common ground like the lobby so you”re still promoting unity, but at the same time, you”re still giving space and recognition to the different ethnic groups, and not mixing them all into one office,” he said.
Berhe said plans such as these are continuing to be considered, and events like the symposium ensure that student voices can be heard on such propositions.
Properly acknowledging individual cultures is something that Paul Dania, 2016-17 president of NSBE, said he recognizes as especially important.
“We always want to associate with one-another, and we want to be able to refer to someone who really understands us on a different level,” he said. “So it”s really important to have that connection with people, and that”s why I decided to join organizations like this.”
Julia Keleher, director of the LGBTQA office, said she the university also hosts a similar Transgender 101 training every semester.
“It is just going to be a general training for faculty and staff, as a way to provide basic info and knowledge on how to create welcoming and inclusive spaces for transgender and gender non-conforming students on campus,” she said.
Keleher said the event is part of the “Safe Zone” program that helps staff properly accommodate LGBTQA students and ensure that each student feels safe and comfortable in university environments.
“I think that the campus is becoming more and more welcoming to LGBTQA people, and more and more faculty go through training every year,” she said. “There”s an interest (in the events), and that”s a big deal. I”m seeing people from all over the campus including other facets that I traditionally hadn”t seen so much of in the past.”
Will Meyer can be reached at email@example.com