First diversity summit unites perspectives

Photo by Reid Bruner

Student Government Association and R.E.A.C.H. hosted their first-ever diversity summit last Friday in hopes of increasing awareness of diversity and stimulating conversation on campus.

Butler University administrators attended the event in hopes of gaining students’ perspectives on diversity.

The event included small group discussions about diversity, in which students were able to express what diversity means to them.

R.E.A.C.H. vice president UnoBlessed Coons said the event was a “test trial” to see how students feel about diversity.

“I was nervous on how the event would go, but we need to figure out how to properly facilitate discussions on a larger scale,” Coons said.

The event was successful and is what the campus needs more of, Coons said.

“I love having people share their thoughts on what they feel Butler is missing,” Coons said.

Valerie Davidson, director of diversity programming, delivered the event’s main speech, which touched on Butler’s unique racial history, her own experience as a black person on campus and ways to improve diversity.

Although an abolitionist founded the university, it has had a history of racial segregation and polarization, Davidson said.

“Growing up in the 1960s in Indianapolis, Butler was thought of as a school for wealthy, white students by the black community,” Davidson said. “There was an invisible barrier around campus.”

Butler hired Davidson in 1986, an event she described as “surreal.”

“I came to Butler to remove the invisible barrier that separated Butler from the black community,” Davidson said.

The campus was “isolated” in terms of diversity and there was “indifference” to the topic, Davidson said.

“It was a polarized community,” she said.

Diversity has improved on campus, but it is important to never become complacent, Davidson said.

“We need to communicate and connect on these issues,” she said. “We can break down barriers by celebrating heritage.”

Davidson said it is important for students to set the tone on campus and make diversity a priority. She complimented SGA for taking the initiative.

“We can improve diversity as a community,” Davidson said. “If students make it a priority, the administration will make it a priority as well.”

Davidson said diversity includes not only race but also other areas, such as religion, gender and socioeconomics.

“By increasing one type of diversity, other types of diversity will be amplified as well,” Davidson said.

SGA President-elect Mike Keller said diversity will be a priority for SGA next year and there is a need for diversity programming to be more inclusive.

“Diversity programming is not just for minorities and certain groups, but it is for all students,” Keller said. “Better programming will go a long way in increasing diversity on campus.”

Council on Presidential Affairs Chair Mike Tirman said creating a welcoming environment needs to be a goal of student government.

“The CPA is here for all students,” Tirman said. “We need to figure out how to make student government a more welcoming place.”

This was the first year for the summit, and SGA plans to have it annually, Coons said.