The Welles-Brown Room was filled on Thursday at 7 p.m. with students, faculty, and community members eager to discuss the misperceptions and related problems facing student groups on campus.
“We are here to listen and learn about misconceptions in order to create a learned and open environment, not to prejudge,” moderator Gladys Pedraza-Burgos said. “It is important to focus and begin a dialogue now to get ideas heard, where disagreement is allowed but not confrontational.”
The community dialogue, entitled “Misconceptions and Stereotypes: What you Always Wanted to Know but Were Afraid to Ask,” drew upon the experiences of many student organizations.
Groups present included the Black Students’ Union, College Diversity Roundtable, Pride Network, Campus Times, College Republicans, Spanish And Latino Students’ Association, National Association for Black Engineers, Sigma Chi, Association for the Development of Interest in The Indian subcontinent, Muslim Students’ Association, URVEG, Students’ for Social Justice, Amnesty International and Charles Drew Pre-Health Society.
Virtually every group’s mission had several things in common — to educate people about the culture which each group represents, to network with students and the surrounding community through multicultural and diverse events, and to provide a means for entertainment and social interaction.
Many groups shared concern that students have the incorrect notion that groups like BSU are only open to black students, that ADITI is only open to people of South Asian decent who can dance, or that to be a member of Amnesty International one must agree with Amnesty’s entire platform.Some solutions were proposed to the groups who have trouble attracting people of different cultural descent.”Even something as simple as saying on your posters ‘open to all students’ can make a big difference,” Take-Five scholar Brian Kolstad said.
“It seems like people are intimidated by BSU,” Sophomore Tanisha Lisle said. “We try to create programs which will appeal to everyone, but no one comes. When people repeatedly don’t show up it is frustrating and we don’t feel generally welcome on campus.”
Throughout the night many important issues were brought out. “As one of the only Hispanics in my high school, I had no problem interacting with Caucasians, but it is a two-way street,” junior Moises DeJesus said. “Minorities tend to stick together and don’t branch out. That is something that both minorities and white people have to work on.”
At the conclusion of the dialogue, groups told people about upcoming opportunities for involvement including attendance at meetings and events. Some events to look forward to are ADITI’s “Mela” in April, URVEG’s “Meatout 2003” in March, Charles Drew’s Annual Conference, Pride Network’s “Gaypril” celebration, SALSA’s “Tropicana Party,” and BSU is having author Sister Souljah speak in March.
“It’s important that we are having this discussion,” sophomore Patrick Brennan said. “Now people have to proactive in order to make tonight’s ideas successful.”
“I was very pleased with the idea,” University Intercessor Kathy Sweetland said. “It was very important that we support Stephanie’s idea. Truly the success of the evening belongs to her because she had the idea and made it a reality.”
People took an active role in participating in the dialogue. “This was an excellent discussion, I appreciated people’s honesty,” Sweetland said. “In addition, people are beginning to see strategies to bridge gaps between groups and the university community. I’m delighted with the event — I think that it was very constructive,” she said.
Organizers were pleased with the results. “I think that the event was great,” junior and organizer Stephanie Fitzpatrick said.
“A lot of valuable ideas came out. I hope that small groups will be able to get together in order to keep the discussion going. Student groups need to support one another more,” she added.
Many students are concerned about the lack of involvement in student organizations. “I was really overwhelmed with the amount of response,” College Diversity Roundtable member and Minority Student Affairs counselor Gladys Pedraza-Burgos said.
“So many students came out to try to gain a mutual understanding of various problems on campus,” she said. “I hope that students are up to the challenge to work through tough issues. This was a very productive dialogue.”
Keesing can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.