To many at the University, diversity and race have become
synonymous with each other, as school officials have made a
concerted effort to encourage students from all racial backgrounds
to join the student body.

But yesterday, students and faculty explored the term
“diversity” even further by breaking down the racial
connotations of the word and recognizing that diversity encompasses
many different social groups within our society.

Held at the Michigan League, the “Redefining Diversity
Conference” aimed to give attendees a greater understanding
of diversity and why it should be promoted. This was done through
small workshops on individual topics, such as academic diversity at
the school and how students could connect with other minority
groups on campus.

Moreover, coordinators of the event wanted to show attendees
that the word “minority” not only includes different
races, but also includes groups with different sexual orientations
and people with disabilities.

“The goal was, we wanted to talk about different minority
issues. To stray away from the words ‘racial minority’
and to recognize we have all these other minorities,” said
Erin Johnson, event coordinator and president of the University
chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored
People.

Johnson, an LSA senior, said many of these minority groups face
similar issues to racial minorities, such as false perceptions and
stereotypes. Yesterday’s conference was meant to help
facilitate discussions about those issues and also give students a
better understanding about the different minority groups on campus,
she added.

One of the workshop topics was minorities in academia. Faculty
members discussed issues University professors face in promoting
diversity in students’ educations. A specific issue
professors deal with is students resisting different viewpoints in
“Race & Ethnicity” courses.

American culture Prof. Maria Cortera described instances where
her students would make remarks about certain ethnic communities
based on preconceived perceptions of the minority group they were
studying. But she said it was difficult to tell those students that
their opinions might offend others in the class.

“Telling them (their comments are unacceptable) the wrong
way could make them look like a racist,” she said.

But psychology Prof. Phillip Akutsu said students could overcome
resistance by telling those students to take a minute to reexamine
the remarks they make, letting them realize their comments can be
offensive to others.

“It allows them to back up on their own thoughts and to
rethink what just happened,” he said.

Another workshop discussed why people with disabilities are
minorities. Faculty members and students began the discussion by
comparing the issues racial minorities face to the issues people
with disabilities contend with. They found that both groups
suffered from many of the same social problems, such as feelings of
disassociation, lack of access to public institutions and fear of
other social groups.

Members of the workshop later explored the issue of the lack of
rights people with disabilities experience everyday, such as how
some handicapped people in the past were forced to be carried in
order to enter certain buildings.

“They have to give up the freedom of controlling their own
body. They have to be touched,” English Prof. Tobin Siebers
said.

People with disabilities give up their right of privacy and can
also sometimes feel like a burden to others, Tobin added.

LSA junior Pete Woiwode said of the conference that he enjoyed
how faculty members went above their own position by participating
in the discussions with the students. It also reaffirmed to him the
importance of diversity University staff.

“In order to teach adequately about our society and the
world, you need different viewpoints. It’s short-sighted to
think that one ethnic group can teach about the different types of
people,” he said.

LSA freshman Julia Ris said the workshops were productive in
learning more about diversity on the campus. “I think
it’s important for everyone to spend time with other groups.
We need to get outside of our own groups,” she said.

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