National diversity & leadership convention brings Utah universities together

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Students from other universities in Utah and speakers engaged in critical discussions about identity, immigration, social justice and cultural-phobia Jan. 21 at the National Student Leadership Diversity Convention (NSLDC) in the Sorensen Center. For the first time, the NSLDC was organized by UVU’s Multicultural Student Services (MSS) along with Salt Lake Community College.

NSLDC brought students from Weber State University, Westminster College, Dixie State University, Southern Utah University and Snow College. The event focused on how to  navigate through issues of inclusion and diversity. Darah Snow, assistant director of MSS, spoke about why UVU was an important place to have the conference.

“In my opinion, there’s a lot that’s been going around diversity and inclusion in making sure that those topics are consistently talked about and presented and I feel like Utah is becoming very progressive in that within their schools,” Snow said.

Christopher Irving, executive director and CEO of the nonprofit organization Ceceilyn Miller Institute for Leadership and Diversity in America (CMI), started the institute in New Jersey and travels as an educational consultant.

Irving presented on cross-cultural communication and how to bridge the divide by opening conversations. Irving had the audience engage by exchanging the stories of their names, followed by an experience of feeling different or discriminated against. He shared his stories before he asked the audience to begin.

Simeon Lovell, a DSU student from Guyana, plans to attend UVU this fall and discussed bridging differences.

“I don’t care if you’re white, yellow, pink or blue or black. In my country our motto is ‘one people, one nation, one destiny’ and I think it’s a good model to put out today in schools to help everyone know that they’re included, they’re felt and they’re loved,” Lovell said.

Jose Luis Posos, program manager for the CMI, presented on the immigration experience. He conducted an open discussion and began by speaking Spanish to the audience for several minutes. One student interrupted Posos and then left the room. He asked how the people in the audience who couldn’t understand felt while he read a poem in Spanish, which he later read in English. He brought up the legal challenges that immigrants face such as the difficulty of attaining permanent residency, the background of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and the inaccessibility of higher education. He also spoke about the bias associated with the word immigrant.

“We have other folks who have immigrated to this country, but we’re not conditioned to think about the other individuals who have similar experiences such as South American folks have,” Posos said.

Alyzza Stanley and Kylie Reese, criminal justice majors at DSU, are part of the Navajo tribe and shared their experiences of division during high school while involved in sports.

“Growing up, we would go on away games and we would go against the white teams, not meaning it like that, but they did not respect us speaking in Navajo because they didn’t understand our routine and what we were saying to each other to win a game, so I guess if they don’t respect us I guess we have to respect them back,” Reese said.

Reese explained what helped strengthen them “We had each other and every time we would sing the national anthem we would sing it in Navajo.”

Many equal rights and student advocacy groups were listed as resources in the immigration experience workshop such as the Brown Immigrant Rights Coalition and Cali Dream Network.