Gallery images by Ty O’Neil
It’s important to prepare students for a global environment but challenges are ongoing and must be addressed, University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) officials said at the Northern Nevada Diversity Summit on campus Thursday.
In the past year, a UNR student became the “poster child” for a white nationalist rally that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia. Additionally, a campus police officer was investigated for making an offensive remark to a black graduate student, a swastika was found drawn on campus, and the future of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA program) has made many nervous, said Kevin Carman, executive vice president and provost.
During the past week, a white fraternity member walked past a group of black fraternity members in the campus library and tossed a banana at them, said Blane Harding, director of advising, recruitment and retention in the UNR College of Science.
A few weeks prior, Harding said signs promoting African American history were taken down, reportedly because they didn’t contain approval stamps. However, he said there are lots of signs on campus that don’t have such stamps and the ideal thing would’ve been to talk to the students who put up the signs about the messages they hoped to send.
“Just in general, the national climate seems to be one that’s polarized and promoting bigotry and hatred and that presents challenges for us as well,” Carman said. “So, it’s highly important we come together and embrace these issues and look for opportunities to address them.”
Nathan Brantley, a senior and international business major from Las Vegas, kicked off the summit. He was this year’s winner of UNR’s Cultural Diversity Committee’s speech competition.
He said people often relate life to climbing a mountain, although altitude is an invisible adversary. It’s the same way when people face such challenges in higher education, Brantley said.
People often associate power based on where someone is from, Brantley said.
“Mexico? Bolivia? Nicaragua? Less power,” he said. “United States? Germany? Russia? More power. Singapore? North Korea? Iran? Ambiguous.”
Brantley said he went on a European backpacking trip and met an electrical engineer named Abe who started his own company.
“When Abe and I met, he asked me one thing: ‘Are you afraid of me?’ Abe was born in Algiers (Algeria’s capital),” Brantley said. “This robust start-up community was filled with engineers and artists and was lost to international headlines of suicide bombers and kidnappings.”
“We fall into racial stereotypes and unfortunately we lose a spectrum of human experience; and to someone like Abe, this will define him more than his accomplishments,” Brantley said. “‘Where are you from?’ as any recent immigrant knows, is a probe into, ‘Where are you really from’?”
Brantley said he strives to be multiracial because it allows “ethnic layers” versus “ethnic checkpoints.”
Harding, who hosted a session on why diversity training isn’t working, said people need to be comfortable being uncomfortable. The most serious discussions on diversity should take place in public, but they usually occur behind closed doors.
Among reasons diversity training doesn’t work include expecting a one-and-done solution, it being seen as forced participation, messages being perceived as too negative, inexperienced people being in charge, and it’s reactive to something that’s already occurred, Harding said.
“We have a strategic plan now because of everything that’s happening,” Harding said. “It should’ve been in place a long time ago.”
A campus climate survey is scheduled to take place this fall and results should be ready by fall 2019, said Harding, who sees the move as a positive. Based on results, he said UNR can adjust its plans and policies.
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