Annual diversity symposium: Poverty simulation, award-winning author

First day of eighth annual symposium, April 26

CMU students listen to Hillel International speaker, Maddi Jackson, Monday, Jan 23, in the UC Rotunda.

On Wednesday, April 26, Central Michigan University students, faculty and community members crowded into the Bovee University Center (UC) Rotunda for the start of the first day of the eighth annual Diversity Symposium at CMU. This year's theme was "Bringing Humanity in from the Margins."

With most seats taken by audience members in business attire conversing around circle tables, CMU Director of Diversity Education Nikita Murray and CMU President Robert Davies started with the opening welcome, acknowledgments and presidential remarks. 

After the opening statements, audience members swiftly moved into the UC Terrace rooms or stayed in the rotunda for the first events of the day.  

The Cost of Poverty Experience (COPE), a virtual program that “provides an online experience for individuals and organizations to better understand poverty and learn from people making the journey out of poverty,” according to Think Tank. This was the first event on the schedule for Wednesday, starting at 9:30 a.m.

Hosted by sociology professor Dr. Mary Senter and social work professor Dr. Lissa Schwander, COPE is an hour-long interactive experience where audience members virtually live and make decisions for a poverty-stricken family, followed by a debrief and group discussion questions. Through a week of financial and social decision-making, this program shows exactly how difficult and unsustainable it can be to live in a low-income household.

“The goal of the event was to get people thinking about what we can do in our own places and spaces to recognize the difficulties that students who live on the margins economically face,” Schwander said. “It’s an important conversation when at the Diversity Symposium because poverty is part of that diversity.” 

Starting at 10 p.m., Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Shawna Patterson-Stephens, delivered The State of Diversity at CMU, overlapping with the COPE program. During this event, she discussed information on CMU’s mission, vision and structure along with some of the work completed, gained accomplishments and future plans. 

“There is a lot of noise on campus that you have to cut through,” Patterson-Stephens said. “People want to know what's happening but are having a difficult time understanding how to access that information.

“I was just hopeful that folks understand what we’re aiming to do, our overall vision for the institution and office, but then also how to access that information now that they know it’s available.”

After returning back into the UC rotunda, audience members were treated with lunch while the next event, a Keynote Luncheon, where Dr. Jonathan Metzl of Vanderbilt University spoke about his 2020 Robert F. Kennedy Book Award “Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland.”

For “Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland,” Metzl traveled across the United States “seeking to better understand the politics of racial resentment and its impact on public health” according to his website. Through interviews with a wide range of Americans, Metzl shows how “racial anxieties” can lead to the changing of laws or social policies of things such as gun laws or funding for schools.  

“Although such measures promised to restore greatness to white America, Metzl’s systematic analysis of health data dramatically reveals they did just the opposite: these policies made life sicker, harder, and shorter in the very populations they purported to aid,” his website said. ”Thus, white gun suicides soared, life expectancies fell, and school dropout rates rose.”