By Leziga Barikor
Students, UNI faculty and Cedar Falls community members all gathered at the top level of Maucker Union for a special event. The Center for Multicultural Education (CME) was decorated to celebrate the opening of a new office on campus. DIS, the new office of Diversity, Inclusion and Social Justice. There were receptions was held on Jan. 24 at 9 a.m, 12 p.m. and 4 p.m.
“Today was the open house which was really a collaborative effort highlighting all three of our centers: the Center for Multicultural Education, Military and Veteran student services, as well as Gender and Sexuality Services as well as our merger under DIS,” said Keyah Levy, the CME assistant director.
The opening remarks and ribbon cutting were done by CME Director Jamie Butler Chidozie. She introduced people to the new office name and invited people to stay for a presentation from the various people involved in the process. There were food and drinks provided by UNI catering for people to enjoy. Chidozie led off the presentation in a side room of the CME.
First Chidozie introduced her colleagues and went over how they came up with their mission statement. The three departments met together and tried to see what collaborating would look like.
“The… thing that we found as we were getting together is that each of our offices really have similar values,” Chidozie said. “And that mission is two pronged, to serve in an advocacy role and a support role. So that’s really the mission of our three offices.”
This lead to their final mission statement for their new combined office which reads as follows: “Diversity, inclusion and social justice at UNI will promote equity and inclusion for all members of the university by leading efforts in diversity education, advocacy and support of underrepresented and minoritized individuals and implementing best practices to foster a sense of belonging.”
Chidozie summed it up as, “Our overall arching mission of creating a sense of belonging for all of our community.”
Chidozie and Levy represented the CME, while the UNI Military and Veteran Services was represented by Coordinator Chiquita Loveless, and the newly named Gender and Sexuality Services office was represented by Coordinator Emily Harsch. Loveless herself is a U.S. military veteran with high honors, and presented some information on the collaboration done during the sessions she was able to attend. Harsch also presented during the longer session and discussed how their offices plan to collaborate. One of the collaborations discussed was how the UNI Veteran Association (UNIVA) collaborated with LGBT* students in the Gender and Sexuality Services office which led to thunderous applause from attendees, such as Celeste Bembry, the student recruitment and retention coordinator.
Bembry later said in an interview that it was great to hear that LGBT* students and military veteran students were working together.
“I think this is just the beginning of a more inclusive and collaborative effort around diversity, inclusion and social justice on a campus-wide scale,” Levy said. “And this really gave us some visibility on campus.”
Leadership at UNI attended some of the reception sessions, including President Mark Nook and Provost and Executive Vice President Jim Wohlpart. Nook had kind remarks to make prior to the ribbon cutting. University Relations was also present at the 12 p.m. occasion to capture photos of the event.
Around the CME there were placards highlighting the people involved in the diversity efforts on campus and some of the past events that have been held. There were pictures of the different events held to promote diversity on campus.
One placard featured an event that DIS held this past fall 2018 called the White Privilege Symposium. It was held at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, IA, but DIS allowed UNI students the opportunity to attend. The symposium focused on learning about race, privilege, identity and intersectionality with various keynote speakers and breakout sessions for students to attend. There are also other projects still in progress that DIS is focusing on this year.
“One thing that I’m really working towards is called the ‘Humanize My Hoodie’ project,” Levy said. “That campaign is really to de-stigmatize labels. Specifically, we’re talking about threat perceptions.”
The exhibit is going to be held to educate people on the topic and spread a movement of more social awareness. It started Feb. 7 to 22.
Along with community members and faculty, there were students in attendance of the open house event. They socialized at tables with the food and drinks provided by UNI Catering. There were soups, sandwiches, water and Panther Punch. Some people sat at long tables, and other lounged on the couches in the CME.
“I think it is extremely important for every student to stop by the plaza level of Maucker Union and really just experience our space. We have things here for students across campus,” Levy said. “Whether it’s Heritage Month Celebrations, whether it’s ‘Hot Wings Hot Topics,’ or just fun game nights and things like that. I encourage them all to stop by and visit some of the programming we have here.”
One of the placards at the event highlighted the events that Levy mentioned. The Student Programming Coordinators (SPCS) are the ones who plan the diversity related programs on UNI campus for students to engage in throughout the school year. There were pictures of students and SPCS at the various events. One of the photo looked forward, advertising their upcoming Hot Wings Hot Topics event over Black History Month which featured both wings and door prizes. Another photo featured a Silent Protest event previously held.
This Silent Protest photo showed students holding up hand made signs advocating for various social justice issues ranging from immigration to the justice system. Some quotes from the poster include: “Alone we can do so little, together we can change the world,” “Accomplishments have NO color,” “’It always seems impossible until it’s done’ -Nelson Mandela,” “No humanbeing [sic] is illegal,” “Build bridges not walls,” “The opposite of poverty is not wealth, but justice,” “Civil rights are human rights!” “More black men are in prison today than were enslaved in 1850,” “Education is the key to unlock the gold door of freedom,” “Environmental Racism: A letter from Mexico to Flint” and “Spread love not hate.”
The other events in the photo featured many diverse students meeting together in the CME either for games, educational opportunities or enjoying food from UNI Catering. Some of the event planners for this year are Adalberto Castrejon (Beto), Kyla Ford, Zainab Illo, Jason Huang, Cierra Robinson and Ami Traore.