Winona State University’s Inclusion and Diversity Office is growing its outreach and offerings to serve all students, the campus community, and the greater Winona community at large.
During the week of February 10, Dr. Jonathan Locust, Director, invites everyone to participate in a program series entitled Expanding Perspectives, to be held each night of the week (M-F) from 7-9 p.m. All events are free and open to the public.
The first event of the week will be a visit from speaker Sonnie Hereford, the first black child to enter Alabama’s historically segregated schools. Although some educational progress has been made, Hereford’s presentation sets forth a question, “Yes, we know schools are integrated now, but has the terminology, the wording, the rhetoric changed since the first black child entered Alabama schools?” Audience members will consider the original court cases that legalized interracial schools, as well as the continuing, institutional racism that is still keeping students and people separated. “Having Sonnie Hereford speak on our campus is an incredible opportunity for our community,” Locust says. “We know that an equity gap still persists in current day – for example, students of color are 3.5 times more likely to be suspended from school and twice as likely to not graduate, which are ongoing issues we must address. The Minnesota State Equity 2030 initiative is another way we as a university system are working to increase equity through inclusion and diversity efforts.”
Other speakers who will share personal empowerment stories throughout the week include a guest from the Intercultural Mutual Assistance Association who arrived in America as immigrant from SE Asia, two artists “telling radical truths” about art, struggle and victory, and a local professor who has lived through what it means to be adopted from Korea. Monday through Thursday’s events will all be held in the Miller Auditorium in Stark Hall 103.
On Friday evening, the last event of the series, taking place in the KEAP Center within Kryzsko Commons, will be a workshop on activism, presented by Inclusion and Diversity staff. Locust explains the goal, “We want to explore back to the roots of the KEAP (Knowledge, Empowerment, Advocacy, and Pluralism) Center and share different, positive ways for students to engage in protests and activism.”
Locust wants students, campus, and all community members to know Inclusion and Diversity is there for everybody. He is aware of the perceptions that only certain populations are served, to which he answers that “Yes, we focus on those who have been underrepresented and experienced gaps in education – but I want people to know that while we focus where the inequities are, our office is for everybody to take a part in, to look, interact, engage, talk, and learn, period.”
That has been the goal and message Locust and his colleagues have been trying to share with the campus and greater communities, and why they are creating events such as Expanding Perspectives. That is also why they are offering CEU opportunities as another entry point for people in the community to engage. “We are trying to figure out how to get more people to join us, to get involved. How can people know our message?”
That message involves a focus on equity in areas such as race and diversity, sexuality and gender, social economic status, veteran status, and different abilities without looking at monolithic character but rather intersectionality. “We of course want people to become aware of their privilege,” says Locust, “but to also understand that some days, things that our students go through here are hard. We want all people to have a greater level of empathy.”
Locust describes how for some students this is the most or least diverse place they have ever been. Either way, it feels and looks and sounds unfamiliar. Creating more opportunities for conversations, ongoing dialogue, and connections between people can all build up student acclimation and success.
As Winona State and the Winona community become focused on becoming more inclusive, Locust says, “We can let the community know that there are economic advantages to being inclusive. If we are having conversations on economic development, we need to see the people’s needs. And we do that by listening. It is our job. As campus becomes more inclusive, the community can become the same.”
Recognizing that only understanding can dispel fear, Locust says that at every event “We always try to provide an environment where people can feel comfortable to converse.” He thanks the community members who have been attending events regularly and heartily invites all of Winona. “We want them to come. When they are there, it provides for a richer environment. “We want to be able to know you, get to know who you are and help to be able support things that will lead to an equitable environment, regardless of what that might look like because we are all about people here.”
For more information on the WSU Inclusion & Diversity Office’s Expanding Perspective series, visit www.winona.edu/inclusion-diversity/events.asp.
To learn more about Equity 2030, visit www.minnstate.edu/Equity2030/index3.html.