Campus diversity topic of town hall discussion

Inclusivity between cultural and ethnic groups at Marquette was the focus of a discussion held Tuesday afternoon in the Alumni Memorial Union.

About 30 students attended the town hall-style gathering, hosted by the university’s Intercultural Engagement department, weighing in with their thoughts on race relations at the university.

In general, students said they felt Marquette hosts a diverse student body but that it does not always feel like it in the classroom or around campus due to a lack of interaction and exposure.

One female student said that while the Center for Intercultural Engagement is designed as an open space for all students, it is generally perceived as a space only open to minorities. Another noted that some white students have hesitated or asked permission to come into the center, which is located on the first floor of the AMU.

Some conversations also centered on interacting with and meeting new people and the difficulties of doing so. Some students concluded that the fear of rejection makes it challenging to move outside of one’s comfort zone. Others criticized how some stereotypical images in popular culture and the media may impact the way students of all races approach cultures different from their own.

In part, the program, titled “Who’s At Your Table,” was meant as a channel for students to become better acquainted with others of different ethnicities and an attempt to break down what some perceive as racial divides. The program was the first in a series to be hosted by the department, which is a branch of the Office of Student Development. It was moderated by John Janulis, coordinator for Intercultural Engagement, and Alexandria Taylor, a graduate assistant in the department.

“‘Who’s At Your Table’ (allowed) students to express their views about racial segregation and self-segregation at Marquette,” Taylor said. “By providing a space for students to discuss these topics, we are hoping (they) will be able to step out of their comfort zone by exploring identities that are different from their own.”

Janulis said there were two goals of the program: to form communities of student leaders who are passionate about inclusivity on campus and to break down stereotypes that exist on campus. For the most part, the discussion was student-driven, with occasional questions asked by the two moderators.

“We want to allow students to engage with each other across these issues,” Janulis said.

Intercultural Engagement is planning to have more town hall-style meetings over the next year, Janulis said, with potential topics such as gender and sexual identities, Asian and Pacific Islander culture, Native American culture and Latino culture. The town hall meetings are aimed at starting conversations between students about tensions and potential divisions in the Marquette community.

Anna Ogunkunle, a sophomore in the College of Communication, said the discussion was very interesting and well-facilitated. She appreciated that people were willing to voice their opinions on a topic that can be sensitive at times.

“Most people aren’t willing to talk about (race),” Ogunkunle said. “It’s a bit touchy.”

This week’s discussion topic was also significant because it fell during Intercultural Engagement’s celebration of Pan African Heritage Month, which is recognized in February. Throughout the month, Intercultural Engagement, along with Black Student Council and the African Student Association, has hosted presentations, documentaries and other events designed to honor and celebrate the variety of cultures represented by students on Marquette’s campus.

“Pan African Heritage Month was engendered to highlight historical figures, events and issues related to the Pan African diaspora,” Taylor said. “In shedding light on these themes, we are hoping to challenge students’ perspectives and enlighten our community of scholars at Marquette about the myriad of cultures in our communities.”