Diversity Initiative sponsors discussion with Mia Bay

Diversity Initiative supports a multicultural campus.

Ryan Thompson

On March 3, Mia Bay kicks off women’s history month with a diversity discussion in Memorial Union. The event will be held in the Shawnee Room at 2:30 pm.

Bay is a professor of history and the director of the Center for Race and Ethnicity at Rutgers University in New Jersey. She is coming to Washburn as a Fink visiting professor. The Diversity Initiative is sponsoring the event.

“We thought bringing in someone from the outside to facilitate our conversations would be beneficial,” said Sharon Sullivan, professor of theatre, women’s and gender studies and chair of the Diversity Initiative. “Dr. Bay was really excited to help us with our process.”

The Diversity Initiative is an association of faculty and staff looking to create a better environment for students of all backgrounds. The initiative is an interdisciplinary group and membership is open to all.

The Diversity Initiative’s mission statement encompasses gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, age, religion and national origin.

“We’re trying to counteract any kind of prejudice and to create a welcoming campus,” said Vanessa Steinroetter, assistant professor of English and member of the Diversity Initiative.

According to the initiative’s strategic plan, the group works toward diversifying Washburn by sustaining campus dialogue and supporting programs and student organizations related to diversity. Furthermore, the Diversity Initiative will be opening its meetings to all who wish to attend.

The diversity discussion is one of multiple events sponsored by the initiative and Sullivan believes it offers a valuable opportunity for students.

“I want student’s voices to be heard, and to be heard you got to show up,” Sullivan said.

In addition to the public diversity discussion on March 3, a students-only conversation with Bay will be held at 9:30 a.m. March 4 in the Lincoln Room. The initiative wants students to have the opportunity to talk openly about what staff and faculty could do to make Washburn a more welcoming campus.

“A campus is better, stronger … and more interesting with more diverse voices,” Steinroetter said. “Nobody wants a situation where we’re all just parroting the same opinions.”

In addition to valuing diversity for its own sake, Sullivan also sees practical benefits to this principle.

“Businesses are looking for people who are culturally competent,” Sullivan said. “That’s one of the tools you need to be successful in today’s world.”

Sullivan uses the term “inclusive excellence” to describe this quality and it includes a person’s ability to be comfortable talking to and working with others of different backgrounds.

Members of the Diversity Initiative feel that Washburn still has a ways to go before the group becomes obsolete.

“We’ve often found that [Washburn] falls short,” Steinroetter said. “I know there are many people who feel their voice is not heard in the classroom or outside of it and that more should be done to promote awareness.”

Still, the Diversity Initiative is hopeful that this will change.

“Washburn is a unique community. We’re very well connected to one another, so I feel like we have a lot of power to create the community we want,” Sullivan said. “Diversity has to be a part of that.”