HIGHLIGHTS: Diversity symposium offers day of learning, understanding

Lucas' grandmother showing support for her grandson during his speech.

Central Michigan University's seventh annual Diversity Symposium took place on April 27 with presentations and discussions all day long.

10:30 a.m. - Lessons learned through Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee work

Five representatives from the Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) committee talked to the audience about their role at CMU and their experiences advocating for diversity. 

The committee consists of designated representatives from each academic college in order to pursue equity and inclusion across campus. 

“DEI work at the college level is an absolutely essential part of the equation,” said John Bunch, a committee member for the Department of Management.

The DEI committee works with students, educators and other CMU members in marginalized communities. Each department takes on separate initiatives throughout the year. 

Committee co-chair Gina Wilson said the Department of Educational Leadership is working on a project to fund “Ableize”, which will create visual images of buildings on campus so that people with disabilities can view the layout and get around campus accordingly.

This year, the DEI committee in the business college implemented a prayer room, held a presentation on allyship and organized an event for alumni to give advice to minority students about navigating careers.

In Fall 2021, the biology department's DEI committee started a weekly newsletter and revived a book club. Biology faculty Xantha Karp said this year's book focused on the government-led history of segregation in America.

 "Understanding those facts gives you a grounding to move forward and (ask) 'How has that turned out? And how does that influence some of the things we see around us today?'," Karp said. 

Steve Gorsich, chairperson of biology and its DEI committee, said the last two years have been particularly challenging with lots of remote work and communication through technology, but they are still finding ways to build a community.

“The more we can celebrate each other’s success with communications, the better off we are," Gorsich said. 

He said the group stays motivated by student engagement. 

“You know what you're doing is a good thing, because they are excited about it,” he said. “And they are the ones that have to lead this charge, with our support”

11:20 a.m. - Understanding sustainability through student and community engagement

Teresa Homsi and Eric Urbaniak, two CMU sustainability coordinators, gave a presentation about eco-friendly living on CMU’s campus.

Sustainability, they said, applies to everyone and exists in three main pillars: environmental, economic and social. 

The presentation discussed ways to promote environmental sustainability in Mount Pleasant through minimizing waste and consumption, advocating for environmental policy and purchasing responsibly. They encouraged attendees to support small businesses, too.

Homsi said sustainability is about building healthy resilient communities, similar to the goals of the DEI committee, because both act as support systems to ensure access to resources and address inequities.

“This really harkens to environmental justice,” Homsi said. “Understanding that resources are not distributed equitably and equally, and making sure that people's needs are being met.” 

They also talked about Central Sustainability, an advocacy group at CMU they started in May 2020, to enact change through projects, policy and programing. 

The group offers sustainability walking tours for people to connect physical locations to sustainability concepts. They also created a sustainable living guide and a CMU sustainability pledge, which President Bob Davies signed. Other means of advocacy include educational videos and special events, such as the campus race to zero waste

Homsi said informed action and civic engagement is key to institutionalizing and advocating for sustainability. 

“It requires constant investment,” she said. “I just want people to care.”

Urbaniak encourages people to think about the ways they can integrate sustainability into their personal life and interests. 

2:30 p.m. - Intersections of Support: Lessons from 13 Under-supported CMU student panels

Members from the Multicultural Diversity and Education Council (MDEC) discussed lessons from over a dozen under-supported student panelists.

MDEC is an academic senate committee broadly focused on promoting multiculturalism, diversity and education. Together, its members accumulated seven main concerns from underrepresented students over the past three years.

“We think we’ve come up with some pretty interesting insights that challenge us to do better as faculty members and administrators,” MDEC chair, Dr. Matt Johnson, said.

Due to concerns about the amount of support they will receive, Johnson said students make judgments about their instructor, based on the syllabus, before the first class.

“Policy and tone on late work and missing class−these seem to be the big ones,” he said. 

Aside from highly advertised offices such as the Multicultural Academic Student Services (MASS) and LGBT Services and Gender Equity Programs, Johnson mentioned the lack of assistance for those that are first generation or rural students. 

“There is no obvious place to send a student,” Johnson said, “How do we support students that we can’t locate that easily." 

Jennifer Evanuik, director of the office of Global Engagement, said students are having a difficult time finding resources. She said many did not know help existed until it was too late and if students did, they have not been helpful.

“It’s a great reminder that even as we serve our different communities,” she said. “It’s not one size fits all."

Dr. Xantha Karp, a biology department faculty member, discussed another lesson that a little flexibility goes a long way. She explained that students need more flexibility in their coursework. 

“If you are seeing the student as a full person, then you can be more mindful that things happen,” Karp said. 

She said that class office hours can be intimidating and unfamiliar to students.

At the end of the presentation, MDEC members discussed initiatives that have launched to address students’ concerns.

They’ve added an 'assist' button to Blackboard which directs students to financial wellness, scheduling and counseling resources. MDEC is working to create syllabi that will direct students to resources and rename the term office hours.

Johnson said, “There aren’t clear-cut solutions to it, and if there were, we wouldn’t likely be talking about them,”.

3:30 p.m. - Writing Away Bias: How Writing Assessment Can Enact White Supremacy

Daniel Lawson, an English faculty member, discussed how humanity's view and use of language, by nature, can come from a place of white supremacy. 

Using research and language experiments from other scholars, Lawson showed how grammar and language intersect with race and culture

“Anti-racism isn’t a state that we achieve, it’s not some final product,” he said. “Rather, it’s a process.”

In one experiment, Lawson asked audience members to observe their own influences on language through their background in education and evaluate them racially. 

“(Looking at my influences) makes me very mindful of how many habits of my own dialect and language I’m bringing to the classroom and how those have been favored for my whole life,” he said.

Lawson said grades in certain classes can be discriminatory by favoring the speech and language of certain groups. Primarily these groups were made up of white, middle to upper-class men, whose language became regarded as the standard.

Lawson said that this idea of standard language - assuming that there is a single standard of best practices - is a myth.

Instead, he believes language should be ideological, or a social practice, rather than a skill.

Lawson asked professors in the audience to examine their own syllabi and consider reassessing their expectations.

“Habituated practice leads to entrenchment,” Lawson said, repeating the title of a book by Chris Anson.

4:30 p.m. - Diversity and Inclusion or Token? A Qualitative Study of Black Women Academic Nurse Leaders

Presenter Dr. Kechi Iheduru-Anderson gave a presentation titled “Diversity and Inclusion or Token?” in the Park Library on April 27. The event was a part of the day-long 7th Annual Diversity Symposium at CMU.

The presenter, Dr. Iheduru-Anderson, discussed her study on black women academic nurse leaders (BWANLs) and its relation to diversity, racism, and tokenism. She is a nationally recognized and award winning scholar. Dr. Iheduru-Anderson is also the Nursing Program Director and associate professor here at CMU’s School of Rehabilitation and Medical Sciences in the nursing program. Dr. Iheduru-Anderson research focuses on institutionalized racism in nursing, education, leadership, and nursing education as a practice.

The study, which was done early last year, focused on three main objectives. The first objective was to discuss how race and gender influence how Black women academic nurse leaders’ function in their leadership positions. The second objective was to explain how the perception of race, gender, class, and power influence the diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives in the workplace. The last objective was to discuss the ways Black academic nurse leaders’ experiences of racism impact the leadership process.

Dr. Iheduru-Anderson made it clear how her own interests and identities played a role in this study.

“My interest in the subject matter is really based on my own personal and professional experiences, identities, and career aspirations. I do acknowledge that my experiences as a black woman, as a nurse, and as an academic leader, impacts my understanding in how I interrupt the findings of this study.”

Dr. Iheduru-Anderson went over the usage of the critical race theory as a framework, methods, and thematic findings.

Thematic findings from the research included paying a personal price for authenticity, being the only one is hard even when you are in charge, an illusion of diversity and inclusion while trying to survive, and a focus on building and sustaining diversity, equity, and inclusion.

The conclusion was that diversity is good, but inclusion is more important as well as appointing black nurses is simply not enough. BWANLs must be fully included and invited to the decision-making table.

Dr. Iheduru-Anderson talked about the wide recognition the study has received.

“This particular paper was used as one of the spring-boards for nursing against racism that has been championed by the American Nursing Association and several projects and speaking engagements have been based on the findings of this study.”

7:30 p.m. - The Arab Influences of the Spanish Language

In honor of Arab Heritage Month, a panel of the Arab influence on Spanish language was held in the Bovee University Center room 108.

Organized by the Muslim Student Association, panelists discussed classifications of being Arab or Latino, differences between arabs and muslims, and the Arabic and Spanish languages. 

Panelists include Nada Al-Ahmad, Rahaf Azzam,Salma Abdelgawad, Andrew Roman, Eduardo Domínguez, Alejandro Salais, Alyssa Corral, Jackie Roman, and Heidi Garay-Estupinian. 

They started off discussing how being an Arab means that your heritage is from the Middle East and North Africa. Arabs are people who speak Arabic as a native language and identify themselves as Arabs. Muslims are those who practice the religion of Islam.  

“There are many similarities between the Arabic and Spanish language due to the Muslim period in Spain that lasted 700 years,” Salais said. 

Being Latino includes Brazil, and not Spain. While being Hispanic includes Spain and not Brazil. The dialects of the Spanish language are diverse and distinct. Each one is influenced by the ever evolving populations of the dialectal region.

Panelists discussed the misconceptions that many may have as how not all Muslims are Arab and not all Muslims speak Arabic.     

“When I went to Spain however, despite seeing a lot of the Islamic/Arab influence found on architecture all around Spain, it’s barely acknowledged by Modern day Spanish historians who don’t want to note the rich history,” Azzam said.

As a single language, Arabic is one of the six most spoken languages in the world, comprising more than 400 million speakers. The Arabic language is written from right to left, and most letters join to the letter that comes after them. 

“The Islamic influence on Spain is actually a lot more than the average person may know, The Muslim period in Spain is often described as a 'golden age' of learning and religious tolerance where many religions and cultures lived together,” Salais said. 

MSA ( Modern Standard Arabic) also known as the official Arabic language is called fus-h-a. It is used in writing and formal speech, taught in schools, university, newspaper, and media. The “spoken” Arabic is the Arabic dialect. In the Arab world there are so many unique dialects because their spoken language is not like their written language.

Panelists discuss that MSA is great to learn if you want to get into media and newspapers. MSA is the language of the holy Quran. Dialect is practiced inside of a country and not out of it.

Kahoot was offered to play so that students attending could learn the similarities and differences within the Arab and Spanish languages. True or false questions such as what certain words are in different languages were asked.  

One member in the audience, freshman Shelbi Richey, said she learned a lot about these different languages. 

“This was a pretty interesting panel and I loved the Kahoot, it’s amazing how the two different languages have such similar words that are spelled and pronounced differently but share the same meaning. I never knew they were so similar. Arabic writing is really beautiful too.” 

Another member in the audience freshman, Niya Penick of Detroit, majoring in Pre- nursing expressed how she enjoyed the panelist helping with pronunciations. 

“ It was interesting that some of the words they were showing between Arabs and Spanish were very similar sound wise. I liked that they worked with us to understand the different languages and how specific words and letters sound.”

Join the MSA at its weekly meeting Thursdays at 7 p.m. in the UC Down Under or follow the MSA on Instagram.