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“Year of Diversity” sparks discussion among students

President+Gunderson+hosted+discussions+after+receiving+feedback+about+%22Year+of+Diversity%22+speakers
President Gunderson hosted discussions after receiving feedback about

President Gunderson hosted discussions after receiving feedback about "Year of Diversity" speakers

President Gunderson hosted discussions after receiving feedback about "Year of Diversity" speakers

Alayna Howard, Reporter

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This has been labeled the Year of Diversity at Park. In that vein, the university has been bringing in guests to discuss issues of diversity. Specifically, several speakers were brought in during the week of Oct. 16. They included leadership consultant Cody Charles, former Park University President David Fowler, and transgender guest speakers Landon Patterson and Lane Hensley.

On Oct. 23, President Greg Gunderson, Ph.D., said in an email, “I have heard feedback related to many of these speakers already and received suggestions that we find time for a discussion.”

He took those suggestions and asked students as well as faculty and staff to meet with him on Oct. 31.

At the student meeting, some students expressed caring about a focus on seeking understanding, some said they had a dislike for speeches with no platform for questions and discussions, while others said they disliked speakers who didn’t focus enough on a human element of diversity.

In Dr. Gunderson’s view, as he expressed at the Oct. 31 gathering, some of the frustration stems from lacking a universal definition of diversity.

“When we started the Year of Diversity,” Dr. Gunderson said, “we didn’t want to spend a year defining [diversity], then starting. We wanted to start and define as we go.”

This lack of a common understanding could explain why some of the speakers may have missed a mark during interactions with students, because they have a different idea of diversity or of what diversity means. Dr. Gunderson also said, “We may not have picked the best speakers, or they may not have stayed on topic.”

This, in particular, was a large part of many students’ issues with Fowler’s speech on diversity.

One student, senior Diamond Norris, was part of a smaller group that met with Fowler prior to his speech. She expected the discussion to be focused on diversity as a concept, regarding humans, but Fowler focused more on business – and did so in a way that Norris found problematic.

“[Fowler] talked about diversity on the business side of things, how having diverse people brings in a profit and a figure. It made it seem like it’s not human. As though because I am a black woman, it benefits this business. They put a figure on me,” she said.

“My people have been bought before, with value placed on something physical, on how much work you can do. Not your thought process or what’s on the inside. It kept coming back to the word ‘profit.’ It was upsetting,” Norris said.

Norris said she thinks Dr. Gunderson’s discussion was a step in the right direction.

“After the speech I stayed with President Gunderson, and I talked to him about how I didn’t think Fowler spoke the way that we thought he was going to, and so he heard my frustration.”

“I really, really appreciate the fact that he did this,” she said of the discussion, “…that our voice as a student body is heard, that what we want to be talked about is talked about.”

“We’re the ones that are going to go into the world and trying to make a change,” Norris said, “so if we have a common understanding here of what it is we should be changing I think that better sets us up for success.”

The diversity discussion also focused on student opinions of the dialogue sessions on diversity and social justice facilitated by Cody Charles. There were nine sessions in total spread across Oct. 16 and 17, and many student groups across campus were encouraged to attend sessions together. Some sessions consisted of mainly student leaders, such as First Year Experience Mentors, members of the Park Student Government Association, and Resident Assistants. Others were attended mainly by athletes, with male athletes and female athletes largely separated into different sessions.

All students received an email with all the different session time slots listed, so these sessions were not necessarily intended to be exclusionary or divisive. Any student could have attended any of the sessions regardless of which campus organizations they participate in.

The email from Associate Vice President and Dean of Students Dr. Jayme Uden which invited students to these sessions included a statement from Charles outlining his intentions for the sessions. It said: “In our short time together, I hope to facilitate authentic dialogue that centers honesty and action. Topics discussed, and the direction of our conversation will mostly be dictated by participants.”

However, feedback from the Oct. 31 discussion showed that some students did not think this was how their session was actually conducted. Sophomore psychology major Ghislaine “Gege” Fumey considered the session she attended a “flop.”

“I heard that each session was different,” Fumey said, “but mine was not at all what I was expecting. I was expecting more of an open discussion about diversity and all that diversity encompasses but instead [Charles] just lectured.”

This sentiment was repeated by senior business administration major Haley Weatherford; “I believe his rhetoric came from a place of education,” she said, “but I was still promised a discussion and it felt more like a lecture at times than a conversation.”

On the subject matter of the sessions, Weatherford said, “I understand why some people did not like Cody Charles’ brand of discussion leading and I also see why some people liked him a lot. For one, I felt like this was a conversation made for the marginalized and not to accommodate those in privilege or with less compassion in their hearts.”

“However,” said Weatherford, “I will say, I’ve never seen a more active conversation about diversity, humanity and helping those that are not represented among the student body than I did after the sessions.”

Both Fumey and Weatherford thought Dr. Gunderson’s discussion was a good response to student complaints, as Norris did.

“I believe the discussion hosted by President Gunderson was a good response to the problem,” Fumey said. “I believe he heard the students’ concerns but now I hope he takes their concerns into consideration and applies that to future events for the Year of Diversity.”

Weatherford expressed a similar statement. “When I went to the diversity discussion that Dr. Gunderson hosted,” she said, “I was wary but hopeful. As a bisexual woman, there are places I don’t feel safe or secure often and I’ve been fortunate to have Park be as supportive as it is.”

“Dr. Gunderson was honest,” Weatherford said. “He was open. He apologized sincerely. Did I like every single thing he said? No, but we’re two people coming from two different places in life. The languages the both of use are sometimes going to clash, but I felt the compassion again and had faith in the mission of the Year of Diversity when walking out of the session.”

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“Year of Diversity” sparks discussion among students