A Crash Course in Diversity

March 31, 2011

Multicultural Retreat
Photo by Alejandro Martinez

Once a year, the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) treats several students to a weekend retreat away from their busy lives on campus for a crash course in diversity. Diversity training today can cover a variety of topics, such as relationships between people of different religions or different sexual orientations. This year, the retreat focused on race and class relations, which can still harbor glaring subtleties.

“The goal of our annual multicultural retreat is to establish relationships among students of diverse identities in order to build a respectful campus community,” said Mahjabeen Rafiuddin, director of multicultural affairs. “We create a safe atmosphere where students can exchange their views about various controversial concepts and issues we all experience in a college setting, and provide the tools and knowledge for our students to be social change agents on campus and in the community.”

About 35 people attended this year’s retreat, which took place March 19 - 20 at the Castle Hotel on I-Drive. Participants then set the ground rules for respectful communication that would help get them through tough conversations. Throughout the weekend, students engaged in dialogue about identity, stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination; and participated in activities to explore their own racial and economic backgrounds.

“We focused most of our energy on learning about race and class because these topics are still taboos in our society,” said Rafiuddin. “We are more comfortable talking about sex than class or race. At a liberal arts institution with a mission to ‘educate students for global citizenship and responsible leadership,’ we need to discuss the societal implications of socioeconomic stratification based on stereotypical information and prejudicial behavior about someone’s skin color, race or ethnicity.”

“Seeing issues from the perspective of others allowed participants to view issues in a new light. Although we’re all Rollins students today, our journeys here varied in difficulty based on our different backgrounds,” said Bailey Robb (Class 2011), one of the student co-facilitators of the retreat.

For the most part, perceptions on race and class have little to do with the individual to which they’re attributed; one is simply born into what exists. However, the fixed ideas that have been maintained through generations and portrayed in the media leave little room for individuals to determine their identity. Such fixed notions can dissolve by building authentic relationships with people from various backgrounds. This requires respect for the ways in which people differ and perhaps a profound realization of the ways in which people are similar.

The journey does not end here, however. As Erin Brioso (Class of 2014) said, “Part of being a diverse community involves more than race and class.” Students are now challenged to be active agents of change and social responsibility on campus.

OMA provides programming and training throughout the year on all the diverse aspects of identity, such as LGBTIQQPA, ability, religion/spirituality, national origin, personalities and political views. Learn more about the Office of Multicultural Affairs and the many ways you can get involved.

By Michael Barrett (Class of 2013)

Office of Public Relations & Community Affairs
For more information, contact news@rollins.edu.

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