Diversity on campus goes 'beyond acceptance'

Category:  News
Thursday, April 21st, 2016 at 7:58 AM
Diversity on campus goes 'beyond acceptance'  by William Stevens

The dictionary definition of diversity is the state of having people who are different races or who have different cultures in a group or organization. But diversity is not necessarily limited to one definition. Diversity means more than simply a difference in skin tone; it can also mean people who have different cultures or even different opinions. Edinboro University is a small-town campus and is lucky enough to have a wide variety of students from all walks of life.

“Most of the students here are curious, accepting and desirous… of diversity,” professor Lee Williams of the sociology department said.

Williams said he believes people are “more than fine” with the fact that diversity exists on campus. He also said students are not necessarily “involved with it.” It goes beyond that though.

“Accepting is also beyond just the simple ‘you do you’re thing; I’ll do mine’ mentality. As long as we’re both able to do our thing, everybody is accepting.”

Williams said in some cases people take offense to what they’re hearing because of cultural biases or disagreements with the facts and the stats. He went on to say this can lead to some nice dialogue.

“I would say that for the administrative team, everyone is accepting. But there’s more work to be done to deepen the level of acceptance and make it authentic and make it come alive.”

Matthew Bresnahan is a student with a physical disability. He spoke candidly about the diversity that exists on Edinboro’s campus.

“I mean [when] we talk about Edinboro’s commitment to diversity, they have clubs and initiatives for making Edinboro a safe campus.

“I think [diversity] opens you up to new experiences. Listen, I’m from western Pennsylvania and to put it mildly it’s conservative and very religious and bound by beliefs. It’s very closed off, more so than in the central part of the state.”

Bresnahan also mentioned that throughout the state you would see “quite a few” confederate flags and that’s why Edinboro stands out.

“It’s a fine place to live, but Edinboro [University] is what drives people… to come here. That’s what makes people want to come.”

Bresnahan also argues the most prominent fact is that Edinboro is highly accessible and is within the top five disability-friendly campuses in the country.

“But I think you don’t realize it until you come here… that Edinboro is really accepting and there are really nice people here.”

It’s a small campus and a small town, but it’s just big enough. It’s nice; it’s inviting; it’s accepting.”

Williams spoke candidly about how some of the alumni responded to their experiences immediately after college.

“I’ve had a couple other alumni speak to how much they valued that exposure, that experience and the intimate learning about diversity.”

Williams said they moved beyond just accepting the fact that they were there, and they really began to take seriously the idea that it’s more than just acceptance.

A large part of this may have something to do with the size of the campus. Bresnahan touched on this briefly when he spoke about the campus.

Williams affirmed that it’s difficult to walk across campus and “not experience some of that (diversity).”

“There’s still work to be done. Wouldn’t it have been cool to have 500 students show up to the wheelchair basketball tournament? Not that there isn’t enough to do in the 21st century,” Williams said.

“But this is something a little special about this campus that we do differently than a lot of places. We have things in place that are different,” Williams said.

“There are elements of fear that are in it, but it’s not the motivator. Acceptance is real, but go beyond acceptance,” Williams said.

Williams went on to say that one of the ways he would push beyond acceptance was to partake in upper-class culture. Not simply listening to symphonies and operas, but he mentioned that his own biases had a “real culture” and he figured that he should know more about it.

He had to first accept the fact that diversity exists and then the curiosity took him further and allowed him to dabble in it more.

He also spoke about the impact history has had on college students today.

“You need to be privy to it… and my less positive, critical message is it doesn’t wash anymore,” he said.

“The only way to move forward further in the process is to take your human body — the piece of meat, the psychic energy, the spiritual energy... and go experience the world. There’s no other way to deal with diversity than that. You can read about it; you can think about it; you can talk about it [but]… the experience is what matters.”

Bresnahan said “there’s been more of an emphasis on creating safe places and a safer campus” once former Edinboro University President Julie Wollman was involved.

“I think people are concerned because of safety. It challenges the university, and it challenges the community, and I think they have [the university] stepped up to the plate and showed who they really are.

“I don’t mean to harp on this, but I think given the area of western Pennsylvania and central Pennsylvania.….it’s surprising.”

He continued, “Most of our people are from Pennsylvania and you would not think that those people that comprise our student body of Edinboro would be that accepting. But I think it speaks to the opportunities that are at Edinboro.”

Bresnahan used himself as an example saying that with his physical disability “people have no idea.”

“I could tell them, but I feel like they know more of what you go through whether you are gay, lesbian or physically disabled. They’re more sympathetic and more understanding.

“Edinboro really comes together and rallies behind it’s students and its diversity because it’s a commitment to diversity,” Bresnahan said.

It speaks to the character and the people of Edinboro because you meet the people… and that’s where it all comes together.

“I really think that’s what Edinboro is about, and when their mettle gets tested, that’s what comes out.”

William Stevens is the Campus Life Editor for The Spectator and he can be reached at campuslife.spectator@gmail.com.

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