Thursday, May 1, 2014

Diving Into Diversity at Frostburg State Univserity

Diving Into Diversity at Frostburg State University

By Jordan Smith

Frostburg, MD- Even in the cold mountains of Western Maryland, Frostburg State University has one of the most unique and diverse groups of students.  However, even with the hospitality the campus offers, some students still have trouble interacting face-to-face with other students from different race and culture backgrounds. In an effort to solve this issue, FSU held their monthly dialogue series, focusing on this topic to get input from the students and community. This Dialogue series, titled “Respecting Each Other: A Dialogue about Race Relation,” was held on Thursday, April 29th in the Lyrics center on Main Street. The main focus of this dialogue was to bring the community together to break the ice on race and culture.

The majority of students attend FSU are from in state. However, over years the campus has become home to not only more out of state students, but to foreign exchange students from all over the world as well.  These individuals are from places such as, China, Africa, the UK, the Middle East, and many other countries. All of which have chosen FSU are their place of study and development. With this high level of diversity, students have the opportunity to connect with their vast array of classmates while gaining interaction experience as well. Unfortunately, this is not the case for some students. In certain situations, race and culture have created an invisible barrier between some students.  This dialogue was aimed to break through these barriers, and hopefully create bonds and new ideas that will help these relationships between students. 
            The night started with Dr. Elesha Ruminski (chair of FSI’s Department of Communication Studies) giving a brief description and a list of the goals for the night.  She then pointed out that the discussion of race can be a sensitive subject to some individuals. Then proceeded to encourage everyone to be very open minded, and accepting to other’s thoughts and opinions. Students, facility and community members, and sponsors from the Mountainside Mediation Center were all in attendance. Flo Anderson, board president of MMC, informed the audience about their service and how it is open and beneficial to everyone. “We are looking for people to further our mission, and what our mission really is, is to educate people on alternative dispute resolution. We are always looking for new volunteers and mediators, and people who are willing to help out. We really want to be able to help to make a difference in this region, we support Allegany and Garret County.”
             From there, Dr. Marvin Johnson and Dr. Frank Dukes led us into our next section of the dialogue.  The audience was divided into small segments called “break out groups.” Due to the nature of the topic, the audience was recommended to move and sit with people of different age, sex, and race, to help the dialogue be more productive and effective. As Dr. Marvin Johnson stated, “You cannot have a rich discussion about race, if your table is all one race, all of one gender, or all of one age.”

Once everyone was organized, each group consisted of about five to eight people per table. Then a list of eight questions was presented to each table to be discussed between its group members. For things to run smoothly, Dr. Frank Dukes recommended that everyone follow his requests to respect other people’s confidence, not judge one another, speak only for yourself, and make sure to share appropriately. With this in mind, the discussions began around the room. The eight questions included, topics about race, the university, the environment, and our past and background.

It was very interesting to meet new people, and learn about their lives and how racism and diversity has affected them. The stories and personal incidents that were expressed during this dialogue were very shocking. To hear that some people faced harsh racism and discrimination around the area is very disconcerting to the whole community.  The university is trying to build a multi-cultural campus, which should make students feel safe, comfortable, and at home. As the groups went through the questions, it not only allowed us to learn about each other, but people were also able to connect and flow off of other’s ideas.

For the next two hours the lyrics building was filled with conversation about different events, stories, and experiences from each individuals past and present. Ideas, thoughts, and concerns, were all addressed during this time, and I even saw that friendships were beginning to form during this time. To hear different experiences, and to imagine putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, was a real eye opening experience.

In conclusion, it was a very successful dialogue. Many individuals were able to speak out about this issue, without fearing some sort of discrimination or judgment. Many people gained new friends throughout the night, and most were able to see the issue from all angles. Due to the history and rural culture in Frostburg, the issue of race has been reoccurring over the years. The university, and the community need to come together as a whole to break down the barriers of racism and discrimination. As the university and the city continue to build, more and more students from all around the country will be in attendance. If we cannot grab the subject of race by the horns now, the result could be worse for future students.

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