In the wake of recent campus protests over how universities address diversity and inclusion nationally, RIT took action through a week of conversations, some planned and some impromptu. All however, focused on sharing personal experiences surrounding race, as well as ideas about ways to continue building a strong and inclusive campus community.
More than 200 members of the RIT community came together earlier this week in the Fireside Lounge as part of a special topic session of Gray Matters, a monthly discussion series designed to promote critical exploration of provocative topics related to higher education and the campus. The topic, #BlackLivesMatter, was an opportunity to share information about current diversity initiatives, and to hear first-hand about situations experienced by those at RIT.
Students influence campus advocacy and are strong voices for change, explained R’ryona Thomas, student advisor and member of the Black Awareness Coordinating Committee, the event co-sponsor.
“First off, I would like to thank Gray Matters for doing this discussion, as well as many other discussions that may be difficult for people to have,” said Thomas, a fifth-year packaging science student from Rochester. “I think the Black Lives Matter discussion is something that needed to happen, and needs to happen more regularly. In the Black community, it’s a topic that we discuss frequently, but not at the capacity of that on Tuesday night. I think this discussion is a start.
“A lot of times we find ourselves having these conversations with people who think similarly, and not with people of different views. This also led us to discuss major issues on a greater dimension based on the individuals that attended the discussion. After this and conversations to come, it will be great to see how the institution will start taking action on the issues that were brought to attention.”
This event was one of the most successful Gray Matter sessions in terms of content and attendance since the program began several years ago, said Stephanie Paredes, manager of multicultural programs in the Office for Diversity and Inclusion, and event co-coordinator.
“I think that universities cannot be afraid of the student voice in any issue. It’s our responsibility to provide a safe campus and that includes a safe place to talk openly about complex issues,” she said. “We had President Bill Destler, Provost Jeremy Haefner and Vice President and Associate Provost for Diversity and Inclusion Kevin McDonald there listening to students express themselves honestly. This shows their commitment to not only the student experience but also the student voice. We had over 200 students, faculty, and staff attend this event. That alone speaks volumes to RIT's ongoing efforts in continuing to build an inclusive campus and not being hesitant to talk, engage and listen.”
The campus events were timely. It all began with the annual Unification celebration of cultural dance and music sponsored by the Global Union. The Office for Diversity and Inclusion joined with the Center for Campus Life hosting multiple showings of the film, “I’m Not Racist…am I?” followed by conversations about the topics in the film. The Muslim Student Association hosted a “Moment of Peace and Prayer” in recognition of lives lost in world conflicts. RIT students also gathered to honor the victims of the recent terror attacks in Paris and in other parts of the world. Kevin Le Blevec, RIT visiting lecturer in French, organized the event to show solidarity with France through poetry and music.
Event partners throughout the week of programming included RIT’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion, Center for Campus Life, the Black Awareness Coordinating Committee, Student Government and Gray Matters.