Summit on Diversity and Inclusion connects students to tools to have conversations

Wren Murphy, Diversity and Inclusion Reporter

New perspectives were shared among student leaders at the seventh annual Student Summit on Diversity and Inclusion on March 16 the Volstorff Ballroom and later the Student Union Market.

The summit moved when the power went out on campus. Florencio Aranda III, the program adviser for Latino students said, “What we’ve talked about is so powerful that we knocked the power out.”

The summit showcased speakers and presenters from different backgrounds, from the GTC Dramatic Dialogues performing troupe to Larry Yazzie, a Meskwaki storyteller and dancer, to Cory Wade, an activist and former “America’s Next Top Model” competitor. This year’s theme was “Making the Connection.”

“If you’re at a part of your life when you feel you have some biases, we’re not here to tell you you’re a bad person,” Aranda said. “We’re here so we can talk about it and give you the tools to talk about it.”

Aranda had audience members write down five important aspects of their identity that appear on the diversity wheel, an educational tool that depicts diversity as a sphere with both inherent, chosen and learned characteristics. Then, he had each row of people connect their identities with someone who shared one of those identities. It took less than 10 minutes for each group of about 30 people to link them.

“We’re all diverse,” Aranda said. “And you start out by realizing we’re all connected. Find some little thing that connects you.”

The GTC Dramatic Dialogues theater group performed two short skits about bias and inclusion. Once the skit finished, the actors stayed in-character to answer audience questions.

“You’re going to come up to situations in family and your career, and it’s not just about saying the right things,” said Ben McGinley, one member of the four-person troupe. “It’s about learning and listening.”

The power went out when GTC’s “You. Me. We.” performance concluded for dinner. After dining in the dark, the event organizers moved students to the Market so they could see Yazzie’s dance.

“My goal is to motivate and inspire wherever I dance,” Yazzie said. “I want to spread the good message of the native American people. We are survivors. We are warriors.”

Cory Wade, the keynote speaker, first came to South Dakota last October, and he was initially cautious about coming to a school in the Midwest.

“There’s this stigma that’s become attached to midwestern places, and I don’t think that’s fair,” said Wade, who is from New York. “I’ve made some bad assumptions but coming here and experiencing everything … my heart gets full every time I come out this way and to this school.”

His speech focused on his experiences as a gay man in the public view that does not conform to gender expectations and how he took those experiences to learn about building connections between people.

“I always try to come from a place of human understanding and want to impart more empathy,” Wade said. “I want people to talk the initiative to learn about people not like themselves.”