Community conversations continue

Samuel Northrup, Editor in Chief

More than 100 students, faculty and staff gathered in Carbone Auditorium in the Economic Crime and Justice Studies building on Monday for a community conversation on diversity.

Participants were broken into 10 randomized groups to discuss issues surrounding diversity, including race and political opinion, then reconvened to report on their discussions. The event was meant to follow up on responses from feedback received from April’s community conversation stemming from racially insensitive and homophobic graffiti found in Bell Hall, according to Dean for Student Diversity and Development Alane Varga.

“What we heard very loud and clear was that we’re not talking to each other often enough or about these kinds of issues,” Varga said. “And so what happens is we don’t know who each other are, we don’t have the opportunity to get to know each other, to talk some of these kinds of things through, and so we’re not establishing the kind of connections and relationships and understandings that we need to be the responsive, inclusive kind of campus that we want.”

In an opening remark before small group discussions began, Utica College President Laura Casamento thanked participants for the turnout of Aug. 30’s Walk a Mile for Unity event, which she called a “wonderful, proud moment for UC.”

“We were a beacon of hope” for the nation, Casamento said.

Varga, who was part of the conversation’s  planning committee comprised of students, faculty and staff, was pleased with participation from members of the campus community at this week’s community conversation.

“I think it was a good initial conversation,” Varga said. “I think we had good representation from a variety of constituencies, like students, faculty and staff, but also from a variety of different groups in terms of representation. I think it was a good group to have a healthy conversation.”

While the Carbone Auditorium was full for most of the event, the vast majority of UC’s community was not present, including the over 5,000 students on campus.

“What we wanted to do is provide an opportunity to continue taking action, to be able to see some movement and to provide folks with a sense that there was a concrete kind of action planning that we can begin to do that supported the kinds of things we were talking about,” Varga said. “To do that, you need to start with a base, and, if we’re not sure if we’re talking with each other, you need to pull people together and say ‘Okay, so what are we talking about? If this is the definition that we’re using, does that resonate, is that still true, what else is there that we need to say in terms of who we are as a diverse, inclusive, welcoming campus community.’”

Students that were in attendance, like freshman Peter Gaughan, enjoyed the event and its small group format.

“The way that we were given an ability to discuss that with the president of the school and with faculty and professors, everyone mixed together and no one more important than anyone else, made it genuinely feel that progress was possible from here,” he said.

Gaughan is planning on attending as many, if not all, diversity driven events as he can going forward and hopes that more members of the UC community do the same.

“I would encourage anyone, whether you’re not that political to you’re the most political person you’ve ever met, it doesn’t matter where you fall, these events are important and they’re ones you want to attend because it’s your way of being able to affect what’s happening in the world around you and be able to genuinely be heard, to show people that you care and have people show that they care about you,” Gaughan said.

Junior Chantel McLean was also enthusiastic about the community conversation’s outcome, including the opportunity for younger students, like Gaughan, to see the best of UC’s community dynamic.

“I think that it was very progressive, that a lot of people will be taking the information that was said here and actually apply it,” McLean said. “Now I feel like people were actually being heard, and it wasn’t just the same faces. It was a lot of different faces, it was very, very diverse.”

A second community conversation will be taking place on Oct. 23 at 4 p.m.

While details for the event are still being planned, Varga hopes that there will be an even greater turnout to increase the representation of different voices on campus.

“It won’t happen overnight,” she said “But, for us to continue to work towards being the campus and community we want to be, we need to keep working on it, and everybody’s participation in that process matters.”