By Lisa Trowbridge, Staff Writer
Last fall, demonstrations at the University of Missouri sparked protest and conversation on campuses across the country — including this one. Some Miami students reacted by posting racist remarks on social media, but MU Dean of Students Mike Curme, and a collective of faculty and students, decided to begin a weekly workgroup to demonstrate support for Miami’s students of color.
Director of Institutional Relations, Randi Thomas, is one of the group’s 15 members. Thomas says this group will allow Miami to identify the specific issues that its students face, which will require collaboration between both white students and students of color.
“I think we need to have more things that help us as an institution to understand why diversity is important and what diversity means — what diversity means to our campus,” Thomas said. “What do we need to supply to both our majority students as well as our black and Hispanic students, and other minority students?”
According to fall 2015 enrollment data, 76 percent of undergraduates in Oxford are white, compared to the national average of 63 percent. Yvania Garcia-Pusateri, the assistant director of the Diversity Affairs Council (DAC) and coordinator of Diverse Student Development, said that, although the campus is predominantly white, it is essential to work with individuals of all identities to ensure that minority students feel comfortable and supported in the community.
“I think, when it comes to these matters, you need allies from all groups, not just people who identify within a certain race or ethnicity,” Garcia-Pusateri said. “You want it to better all groups that have been historically marginalized.”
Curme said they reached out to students using the DAC listserv. Those who responded were joined by various faculty members in the division of student affairs, and the group is still open to anyone interested in joining.
In past meetings, the group has focused on identifying the issues and trying to find ways to better educate Miami’s students about them.
“We’re all trying to figure out ways of supporting the underrepresented so that they have a voice and a place to be successful,” said Michelle Thomas, Director of Business Student Organizations and Diversity.
Michelle Thomas said the change that needs to happen will result from educating everyone—minority and majority—in order to bring attention and urgency to the topic.
“It’s Not always about fixing or working on the underrepresented. It’s also about looking at how we can make sure our majority students understand the issues. We worked hard on figuring out how to do that, whether it’s through a course or different events that focus on diversity inclusion,” Michelle Thomas said.
The group plans to accomplish this by continuing to discuss and brainstorm about these issues in their future meetings. Currently, they are considering offering diversity-based courses and bringing in executive speakers to talk about diversity.
Garcia-Pusateri said she hopes that it will not only help white students connect with minorities, but will also bring together domestic minority students and international students. She also hopes it will help students to become more welcoming of international students and their culture.
“I think their experiences are very different, yet the same,” Garcia-Pusateri said. “They still feel a sense of marginalization on campus. I think those two groups should unify and find solidarity with each other.”
Garcia-Pusateri noted how many international students Anglicize their names and proposed fostering an environment where these students felt fully welcomed and comfortable using their given names.
Ultimately, Michelle Thomas said the group will help Miami accomplish its goal of having a community of inclusion and acceptance of different cultures. She stressed the importance of reaching out to the student body and ensuring the Miami community as a whole gets involved.
“You can’t work on things as an island. You have to have a cross-section of everybody involved,” said Thomas. “For me, diversity is a spectrum. It comes full-circle.”