Northern Iowa Student Government

UNITY, with a side of tomatoes.

By: Ian Goldsmith on Mon, 03/19/2012 - 11:07

A Message from the Student Body Vice President

 

Diversity. This is a term we hear over and over and over again. Living in a community of higher education, everyone from our RA to our professors emphasize the “importance of diversity.”

Even our own country focuses a lot of attention on the concept of diversity. We all grew up hearing the analogy that America the Beautiful is a “melting pot,” or perhaps more accurately, a “salad bowl.” The Land of the Free brings in people from a multitude of nationalities, religions, cultures, etc. College, specifically, is a rare opportunity to experience our own version of the “salad bowl” and to appreciate the diverse world we live in.

    But what does it mean to appreciate diversity?

Coming into college, I held a very distorted view of diversity. I grew up near a small town in Eastern Iowa;  a town comprised 99% of white Catholics. While I have pride in my hometown, I never understood until I came to UNI how unrealistic and unrepresentative this is of the world. Based on my subject positioning as a freshman, “participating in diversity” simply meant having a conversation with someone of a different religious or ethnic background than myself.

With my various leadership positions and interactions with varied individuals, my outlook on diversity began to grow throughout college. However, I still struggled with the same narrow understanding of what diversity truly means. When I ran for my position as Vice President, I wanted to “improve UNI’s ‘diversity problems.’”  At the time, I thought this could “be solved” by things like recruiting more minority students, hiring more faculty members of color, etc. While these are worthwhile pursuits for the university, I now realize that this isn’t what diversity improvement is truly about.  You can’t simply throw more tomatoes into the salad and expect it to taste better.

My perception of diversity continued to improve through a series of diversity workshops I participated in through UNI’s “diversity fellows.” In addition, this past summer I attended a week-long leadership camp called “Leadershape.” Here, I had the privilege of spending a full week bonding with incredible student leaders from all backgrounds and all corners of the U.S.

Invigorated by Leadershape, I returned with fellow Leadershape alums/NISG Senators Nate Konrardy and Chris Apling with the initial idea for “Unity Week.”  We sought to produce something on campus geared towards setting aside assumptions and eliminating prejudice. In the same way that Homecoming Week brings us together as Panthers, we wanted a week to bring us together as people, appreciating everyone for who they are. We want the UNI student body and community actively setting aside prejudice to foster an inclusive environment. We seek to unite to make UNI, and the world, a better place. A quote by author John Green embodies how I feel we should view each other as people: "There is no Them; there are only facets of us.”

Since this is the first year of UNIty Week, we kept it small and simple. Our hope is that the concept behind UNIty Week will continue to grow in magnitude and impact in future years. While one week of simple programs will not change the world, it is certainly a step towards our vision. The events are only a vessel to promote the greater message. Here is a list of this week’s events:


*Monday - Unity Banner
    This banner exhibits the word “UNITY,” with the quote “Out of many, one.” Throughout the day/week, we will ask many UNI students and employees to sign or decorate the banner. This banner will be put on display and demonstrates that so many of us are unique, while still part of a greater whole.  Stop by our table in the Union or the NISG office to leave your mark!

*Tuesday - Inclusivity Activity

NISG has collaborated with the Culture and Intensive English Program (CIEP) to host an interactive event. The event will be held Tuesday at 4 PM in the Maucker Union Hemisphere Lounge (behind Chats.) The event is open to all people to participate in the diversity-oriented activities and win prizes!


*Wednesday - Talent Show
    The International Student Association will be hosting a talent show in the Maucker Union Coffee House on Wednesday night at 8. Exchange students from a variety of countries will showcase their talents, as well as anyone else who would like to participate! This will not be a competition, but rather a celebration of uniqueness from around the state, country, and world. If you are interested in celebrating your talent, please contact myself (goldsmii@uni.edu) or Ramya Varadaraju (varadarr@uni.edu).

*Thursday - Unity Demonstration
    The week concludes with a powerful demonstration event. We will symbolically break down our differences and the barriers created by them. I don’t want to spoil the surprise, so be sure to make your way to the Maucker Union coffeehouse at 12:30! If you would like to participate in the event, please contact myself (goldsmii@uni.edu) or Darvel Givens (givensd@uni.edu).

I am by no means an expert on diversity. I hope to continue learning from unique and different individuals for the rest of my life.  But I have begun to understand that diversity is not just about our “labels.” Diversity is not just about our background, our nationality, our sexual orientation, our skin color, or our beliefs. Diversity is not just about minorities. Diversity appreciation is not just seeking to end discrimination. Diversity appreciation is not just about strength in numbers or our actions. Everyone is unique, so EVERYONE is diverse. Diversity is all around us; it is the reality and the beauty of the world we live in.

 

Diversity appreciation is a mindset.  When we set aside assumptions and prejudice, and embrace each other for who we are, we can learn and grow as a community. As this mindset spreads, we begin to change the world.

    So, whether you are a tomato or a crouton, I encourage you to spread the word and participate in UNIty Week; but more importantly, continue to reach out to others to strive for a world of diversity appreciation.

Happy UNIty Week, and as always, Go Panthers!