By Ellen Cicchitti
On Wednesday, Feb. 28, speaker Tyron Russell came to DeSales for a conversation about diversity on campus. He was the director of multicultural affairs at Lehigh University from 2011 to 2015, and he is now the coordinator of racial and ethnic justice with the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley.
Before he went up to speak, Abria Jackson, one of DeSales University’s PACE officers, introduced the topic of diversity by mentioning a diversity survey that went to 200 students on campus. According to the survey, some said that they feel that race tends to be overlooked. “We do not understand the true reason to promote diversity,” Jackson said. “We are here to celebrate differences, and to instill unity among people of different cultures.”
Then Russell got up to introduce the topic of diversity even further.
“What is diversity?” he asked. “What can you teach someone right now? In the next three minutes, I want you to teach someone something.”
Students got up and conversed with one another, and when the activity was over, a few shared what they had learned from someone else.
“I learned that if you train your ears to move up and down when you’re young,” a student said, “then you’ll be able to do it. If you don’t train them when you’re young, you’ll never be able to do it.”
Russell asked the question of what diversity is again, and the answer provided was differing world views.
“Culture is your worldview,” Russell said. “Diversity is just made up of those different thoughts and worldviews. Culture, diversity, inclusion–we can all do these things together. So how do we stop division and bring everyone together in a community?”
He then laid out guidelines for critical dialogue, saying, “Take everything that’s said with positive self-regard, remember intent and impact of your words, acknowledge the process and content of what you say and accept non-closure. If we don’t fix the way we’re having a conversation, we can’t get to the what of it.”
The next activity was watching an interview session of five people applying for a college and eliminating one of them by vote. After a question was asked for each “candidate” and the answers were given, the students discussed which one would be eliminated. Some defended the ones that a majority of students did not see as a good fit, and their points were surprisingly valid, and even made some of the majority begin to change their minds.
The activity could not be completed due to time constraints, but Russell pointed out, “If you guys can take something away from this workshop, that would be infinitely more important than finishing an activity.”
“A Working Conceptualization of Historically Excluded and Historically Included Groups” was the last part of the discussion-based workshop, where students paired up once again to discuss which groups they were a part of, and how being in these groups could have potentially affected their lives or made them realize something about themselves.
An extra part of this activity was that the pairs had to stare into the other’s eyes for 120 seconds, something that is easier said than done–many of the students mentioned how strange it felt to stare into someone’s eyes for that long without saying anything. Some said they felt closer to the person with which they were partnered.
“I felt like I could recognize my partner’s struggles–I wanted to hug her,” one student remarked.
After a few more students shared their experience with how they felt, Russell concluded the workshop session with a few more words.
“This diversity stuff gets complicated and nasty, but there are three things that I want you to do once you leave. Start a conversation with your inner circle about diversity, ask questions and speak up and speak out!”