Samuel Northrup, Editor-in-Chief
Hundreds of students, faculty and staff gathered on Wednesday in the Edward and Jean Duffy Plaza for the campus-wide Walk a Mile for Unity. Participants met early to make signs and banners, then began the walk in Duffey Plaza that continued through Romano Plaza and went around the west side of the campus.
The Unity Walk, which served to promote diversity on Utica College’s campus, came two weeks after the tragic events in Charlottesville, Virginia. College President Laura Casamento and Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs John Johnsen were among many high-level campus officials present.
Casamento, now entering her second year as president, addressed the large crowd before the walk began, encouraging those in attendance to continue “the conversation” and “be an ambassador of unity.”
“While others lean toward division today, I challenge every member of the UC community to lean towards inclusiveness and unity, and that’s why we’re here,” she said.
Johnsen, who spoke after Casamento, emphasized the importance of having both a diverse and inclusive community where members can disagree with one another but are also valued.
“Unity doesn’t mean uniformity,” Johnsen said. “There are going to be some ways that we differ that will make us uneasy, but we can still value each other as members of the community even if we don’t necessarily value everything each of us does as a member of the community.”
At the same time, Johnsen stated “there are ultimate limits” to expression in regard to last semester’s graffiti incidents.
Dean for Diversity and Student Development Alane Varga was pleased with how the Walk turned out, adding she felt it was important a diversity-driven event occurred at the beginning of the semester.
“It was, for me, incredible to be where I was, to look out at the members of the Utica College community that gathered,” Varga said. “It was an extraordinary participation from faculty, staff and students, many of whom I’m not sure have been together at the same time and place very often.”
Students shared similar enthusiasm toward the Unity Walk, including Asad Emi.
Emi, the president of Brothers on a New Direction, sees the Walk as something bigger than just a reaction to what has occurred on campus.
“If we can be here, show love, show we’re not going to let hate or any kind of racism come between us, then we can as a country,” he said.
Lukus Becker, president of the Gay-Straight Alliance at UC, also connected the significance of the event beyond UC’s campus.
“I think this (the Unity Walk) is a good message for incoming freshman, for people who still exist here and for our community and world,” he said.
While the Walk a Mile for Unity event brought a significant population of the campus community together, Varga noted the importance of continuing to have diversity-driven events on campus.
“That (the Walk) sends a message early-on that begins bringing everyone together,” she said. “But if you do not follow that up with other ways of connecting learning, talking with each other, it really loses the impact very quickly.”
In a memo to students, faculty and staff from Casamento and Johnsen, announced that community conversations, the first coming on Sept. 18 at 4 p.m. and the other on Oct. 23 at 4 p.m., are at least two diversity events that are planned for this semester.