Series: An examination of diversity on the College’s campus

Stephanie Miller September 29, 2017 0

This article is the second in a series that examines diversity at Elizabethtown College and at colleges and universities around the country. Last week’s article examined why college diversity is such a heated topic and compared Etown’s diversity to that of similar colleges. This installment focuses specifically on Etown and offers an overview of different clubs, events and programs that cater to students from underrepresented backgrounds. The final installment of this series will be published in the fourth issue of the Etownian.

Steph Headshot_Megan White

Photo by Megan White

Director of Diversity and Inclusion Dr. Monica Smith believes that diversity at Elizabethtown College is a work in progress and that there are many ways the College can grow as an institution.

“I think the same areas where we’re improving are the areas we need to improve on,” Smith said. “When we talk about incorporating inclusive excellence, it really is a never-ending journey.” One area where Smith sees room for improvement is in recruiting and retaining students from underrepresented backgrounds.

Interim Vice President for Enrollment Management George Walter described several ways in which the College recruits and accommodates underrepresented prospective students. He specifically discussed the Momentum program, which helps first-generation and Pell-eligible first-years make the transition to college. Also, according to Walter, several pages of the College’s website have been translated into Spanish to accommodate Spanish-speaking prospective students.

“It’s not just words, but actions that matter when welcoming students,” Walter said.

Once students enroll, there are many ways to get involved with diversity, whether it be racial, cultural, religious, gender or sexual orientation.

Noir is Etown’s diversity student union. The club holds regular meetings and discussions of current events and sponsors diversity-related events on campus. According to sophomore Damani Odom, Noir’s secretary, the club focuses on the lack of representation for people of color on campus.

“I’m used to going to class and being the only person of color there,” Odom said. “Still, the professors really try to be inclusive, and I appreciate that.” She said Noir tries to highlight diversity at Etown and celebrate all backgrounds.

Etown also works to accommodate for students from underrepresented sexual orientations and gender identities. The Etown Allies club serves as a safe space for students on the LGBTQ spectrum. In addition to weekly meetings and discussions, Allies sponsors several events each year, including the Second-Chance Prom, a drag show and coming-out day events. This year’s Second-Chance Prom will be held Thursday, Oct. 12. Modeled after high school proms, this dance gives LGBTQ students who may not have had the best prom experience the freedom to wear what they want and go with who they want.

Junior Rebecca Easton, a member of Allies, says she thinks the College is doing well in accommodating students on the LGBTQ spectrum but would like to see an increase in the LGBTQ community’s presence on campus.

“I sometimes feel like the LGBTQ community is segregated on campus, which is something I definitely see when it comes to Allies,” Easton said.

In addition to racial and sexual orientation diversity, the College makes an effort to welcome students from all religious backgrounds. Etown offers Better Together, a club that lets religious and non-religious people advocate for peace and discuss current events. Groups for individual religions include Cru, Intervarsity, Newman, Hillel and the Muslim Student Association and Friends.

There are also several facilities designed for underrepresented students. The College’s Mosaic House opened last fall. This facility is open to all students as a hangout spot and hosts many diversity-related events each year. Last year the College designated gender-neutral bathrooms, including one in the Baugher Student Center. There is also gender-inclusive housing in the Vera Hackman Apartments, the Schreiber Quadrangle and Founders Residence Hall.

“[Places like these] are things I didn’t see at other colleges I considered,” Easton said.

However, some students are too busy to commit to membership in a club or have no need for the aforementioned facilities. For these students, many diversity-related events happen on campus each year. Recently, Honorary U.S. cultural ambassador Yewande Austin gave an interactive workshop presentation titled “Diversity: Your Greatest Asset.”

The workshop featured information about everything from the effects of intolerance to ways to develop empathy. Students also participated in activities that made them think about how they see their own diverse qualities and those of others. In one exercise, students role-played situations with identity and diversity-related conflicts and resolved those conflicts using methods Austin described.

In a scenario sparked by a recent campus incident, one student pretended to post “Identity Evropa” propaganda while another student (who disagreed with the organization’s white supremacist message) questioned her about it. After using Austin’s conflict resolution techniques to guide their conversation, the students decided to respect each other’s beliefs even though they did not agree with them.

Austin often reminded attendees that their diverse qualities should be viewed as strengths and not hurdles. “If you know who you are and are unapologetic about it, you are the best kind of threat,” she said.

Students have opportunities to advocate for diversity off campus as well. Associate professor of religious studies and Director of Peace and Conflict studies Dr. Michael Long is facilitating a trip to the March for Racial Justice in Washington, D.C. Saturday, Sept. 30. According to Long, one of the benefits of participating in marches is learning that one is not alone in his or her beliefs.

“Sometimes Etown students who resist injustice have a sense that they’re part of a select few, and that sense is deflating,” Long said.

Smith agreed and said that club presidents and event facilitators often “preach to the choir,” meaning the same students go to all the diversity-centered clubs and events. For example, Austin’s event took place in Hoover 212. Despite the room’s large capacity, only ten students attended. Both Easton and Odom said they want students to realize that they do not need to belong to underrepresented groups to get involved, especially since there are many ways to do so.

“For students to only show up to diversity events when they’re required to communicates that they’re not interested or that they’ll only go if it’s incentivized,” Smith said. “Our motto is ‘Educate for Service.’ You cannot serve others if you don’t make an effort to understand their experience or value their identity.”

 

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