Race. Gender. Sexual orientation. Religion. All of these factors are constantly dividing the world against itself. Each day, there is another confrontation or situation that adds to the big picture: We are not all the same. Encouraging discussion of these topics helps to create a safer environment according to Willie McKether, the University of Toledo’s vice-president of Diversity and Inclusion and vice-provost.
“Students are exposed and are talking about what happens nationally,” McKether said. “We want students to come out to share their thoughts. Students are having conversations and we think we have a responsibility to provide that space for students to talk and to do it in a way that’s constructive.”
McKether, along with the help of UT’s many student organizations, has created that safe place for students to talk on campus through UT Dialogues on Diversity and Inclusion. The idea was sparked after hearing much about the need for one during last year’s diversity survey.
“What students said in particular was that they wanted opportunities to have dialogues,” McKether said. “So this series of dialogues on diversity is in direct response to what students said about their interest and need to have a space to talk about issues that make them different, about inclusion.”
The first of the Dialogue was held Sept. 13 in the Student Union, which about 50 students attended. The topic of discussion: students and their relationship with police officers.
“This topic is a controversial but important one to discuss,” said Luke Zastrow, one of UT’s student trustees. “I think there is quite a bit of confusion and difference of opinion when it comes to this topic, and the purpose of this event is to allow students to learn from each other about these issues.”
McKether has recruited help from student groups such as the student trustees, Latino Student Union and Black Student Union.
“Everyone in the planning process for the Diversity Dialogues is incredibly excited and supportive of this initiative,” said Anna Crisp, a UT student trustee. “We are looking forward to hearing from students at the event to hear their opinions of this opportunity to share ideas and opinions.”
Students from all different walks of life are in agreement that having these meaningful discussions on topics relevant to the student body is important to the university.
“Regarding Latino Student Union, this dialogue serves as an opportunity to discuss the matter in an environment that might not reflect a general member’s personal opinion,” said Alisya Gomez, vice-president of the Latino Student Union. “We want our members to take part of school discussions so that they can form their own opinions to create a diverse set of later discussions.”
Crisp agreed with Gomez. Crisp says that these discussions are pertinent to understanding each other.
“Diversity and inclusion cannot be achieved without having ‘tough’ discussions,” Crisp said. “Sometimes our own personal thoughts need to be broadened to make room for understanding the viewpoints of others.”
McKether said that future dialogues will be based off the opinions of students. Future discussions will be based on topics that students choose, including special discussions for LGBTQA month. As for this dialogue, there has been much support from the students involved.
“These issues affect all students on campus,” Zastrow said. “Whatever experiences, or lack thereof, students have had with police officers, it is essential to discuss these topics and view them from different perspectives. I think when students develop a solid understanding and comfortability with these topics, it makes for better student-student and student-police interactions.”
McKether said that he will be glad if even just one student comes to the discussion and gains a new perspective on the topic. He said that he designed these dialogues for the students and because of the students.
“This dialogue should affect every student on campus regardless of anyone’s personal opinion on this matter. It is important that we hear the opinions and concerns of our peers,” Gomez said. “It’s important that students take the initiative to learn and discuss between each other the current topics in our society.”
The next dialogue with occur on Tuesday, Oct. 11. The topic has yet to be chosen and will be announced on the UT Dialogues on Diversity and Inclusion’s website.