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Mace & Crown | April 22, 2018

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NAACP Holds Diversity Discussion

NAACP Holds Diversity Discussion
Sean Davis

The first step to fixing a problem is to acknowledge that there is one, or so they say.

The ODU NAACP chapter attempted to do just that to solve shortcomings in campus inclusivity. Their open meeting on Nov. 10, “ODUnited: But are We Really?” proved productive as well as cathartic for many students.

The conversations were candid and respectful. The organizers fostered open dialogue that allowed space for many students of color to recount times they’d felt unwelcome or uncomfortable in predominantly white spaces. It also left room for honest questioning and problem discussion.

Chapter Historian Taylor Crawford, who moderated, set the tone in her introduction.

“This is an important discussion that needs to be held and this is the first step,” she said. “We’d like for this to be a space where people can be… honest and people won’t attack them.”

She played a short video, “Diversity at ODU” and presented the results of a student survey the group conducted to assess attitudes on diversity and inclusion. Panelists and audience members then discussed the findings.

One survey question, about the existence of a divide on campus between whites and minorities garnered a 77 percent yes vote and allowed students to directly address specific instances such as the racial divide in Webb between House of Blue and the North Café during activity hour.

“I definitely understand wanting to only be around your own kind, however, after college, it won’t just be people that look like you in the workplace. Being in college should get people ready for the real world,” Brianna Colston said in a follow-up email.

The diversity, or lack thereof, in student organizations remained another primary topic. Participants talked about the challenges of integrating their orgs and combatting the barriers that keep some students from joining.

“I believe that orgs try to be [inclusive],” Colston said, acknowledging that overcoming its reputation as a black organization has proved an issue for the NAACP chapter. “You have to be willing to step into that room, get that awkward moment over with and continue to come back.”

SGA Vice President Bret Folger suggested that the issue lies in the misconception that members of different groups can’t advocate for each other.

“I think that hopefully we’re moving in the right direction just to understanding that you don’t have to be part of a group to care for their advancement and their well being,” he said.

A number of students talked about the benefits of getting to know others after having been class partners, roommates or team members and how that might help increase acceptance and understanding.

“Once you get to know someone you’ll never badmouth them, or someone that looks like them, again,” one audience member suggested.

Despite the topics, which many might see as divisive, the prevailing feeling was one of building unity and overcoming the challenges that keep people divided.

“Really when I think about it, it’s something more fundamental: it’s just realizing that we’re all a part of humanity,” Corey Seldon said. “Everyone is my brother. Everyone is my sister. No matter your background, where you come from, my background, where I come from, we’re all here together.”

Perhaps the biggest challenge of talking about race with people of different ethnicities or backgrounds is that that situation, itself, is uncomfortable for some.

“White people are the majority until you actually have conversations about race. You notice how many white people are here? Not that many,” panelist Blake Phillips said, acknowledging the elephant in the room. “I think that the biggest thing that minority groups can do for… white people, is to help us come to know our own ethnic identity, and help us to be racially aware of ourselves.”

SGA President Chris Ndiritu and SEES Vice President Ellen Neufeldt attended the meeting and after it ended, Neufeldt praised the organizers, tweeting at the group “great discussion tonight! Thanks for your leadership.”

Ndiritu took the opportunity to invite participants to join SGA’s recently created Diversity and Inclusivity Excellence Task Force.

“I think they’re doing exactly what we’re doing, just in a different forum,” Folger said, adding that he thought the meeting had been meaningful and taken on important questions.