Students each come with their own story, and each person’s contribution shapes diversity on campus. Not accepting one another’s differences can lead to tension between students, faculty and staff, but Malone is seeking reconciliation between cultures.
“The first thing to do is dispel of all of the stereotypes that you have in your mind or that you’ve heard over the years,” said Brenda Stevens, director of multicultural services.
Stevens develops programs and activities that nurture and support multicultural students while also seeking to educate the community on diversity.
“We seek to create a climate of acceptance and tolerance on campus,” Stevens said.
According to Stevens, both majority and minority students need to see beyond stereotypes to the person underneath.
“Get to know someone who’s different,” Stevens said. “Get to really know and appreciate someone who is from another culture, and when you get to know that person, get to know someone else.” [pullquote]“When we interact with someone who’s different, that upsets our own ideas,” Stevens said. “It hurts sometimes.”[/pullquote]
Making an effort to get to know students with various backgrounds is crucial to discovering what Stevens calls “the layers of diversity,” and these layers serve to reveal the many dimensions of diversity.
Stevens said the discovery process leads to a deeper sense of self.
“Working through that is what grows you, what increases you and enhances who you are,” Stevens said. “It brings learning and value to who you are because now you have a new perspective.”
Although the process can be constructive, Stevens also said it is the place where most cultural misunderstandings occur.
“When we interact with someone who’s different, that upsets our own ideas,” Stevens said. “It causes us to think some more about where and why that came to be our ethos. It hurts sometimes.”
The best place for these misunderstandings to occur is in the nest of Malone, Stevens said. Making a mistake here is safe and allows for learning and correction. It is not that way in the workplace. [pullquote]“No matter your background, you’re welcome at Malone, but your background does matter because it shapes our identity and story,” Scott said.[/pullquote]
“We need to work on climate, and the best way to do that is to increase our number of diverse students, professors and administrators,” Stevens said.
“We have to be aware that diversity doesn’t just mean ethnicity and race,” said Melody Scott, dean of students.
Scott creates a space where individuals coming from all cultures can share their stories and cultivate a richer experience for the Malone community.
“No matter your background, you’re welcome at Malone, but your background does matter because it shapes our identity and story,” Scott said.
Scott said embracing diversity comes from scripture, and it is part of the biblical mandate to love one another.
“There’s a mandate that demands hospitality and love,” Scott said. “The space we create comes out of that mandate.”
Creating the space for healthy interactions between students from different cultures is a process of building bridges across differences, Scott said. She believes it has to start with self.
“A huge part [of creating space] is understanding your own sense of identity and bringing that to the table and talking about how that influences attitudes and behaviors,” Scott said. “[Our sense of self] influences how we listen to one another.”
Scott stressed the importance of established programs on campus in developing healthy cross-cultural interactions between students and faculty.
Culturefest, multicultural student emphasis week, One Voice Gospel Choir, the film series on diversity, social justice issues and the civic engagement floors are all opportunities provided for students to learn about other cultures.
Corina Newsome, senior zoo and wildlife biology major and student director of multicultural services, has a hand in developing these programs and educating the student population. As a director she is also part of Student Senate. [pullquote]“Each side has to take a responsibility to learn about who they are,” Newsome said.[/pullquote]
“I bring issues that relate to diversity to the table,” Newsome said. “The biggest issue is not that people don’t care. Most of the problem is that people don’t have a language for talking about [diversity], so they come off as arrogant or ignorant.”
Newsome said she is striving to give people the necessary language for addressing issues of diversity.
“We do different programming and host events that encourage positive talk and culturally sensitive language,” Newsome said.
Part of this language includes asking questions and talking to other people.
“Having questions is amazing and great,” Newsome said. “I think that we should engage those questions. Healthy interaction is knowing how to ask those questions, and language is a big part of that.”
The question-and-answer process requires actions by both parties in the interaction, and it should be seen as an opportunity to educate.
“It’s okay to be offended, but try to take responsibility to educate,” Newsome said. “Each side has to take a responsibility to learn about who they are.”
Discovering the stories of people on campus requires active questioning and listening, but the reward of reconciliation and education can be well worth the effort.