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Intersection - Inclusivity and Diversity at MU, Part Two

This week on Intersection, we’re continuing the conversation about diversity and inclusivity at the University of Missouri. This is the second in a two-part series, and we start with Diversity Peer Educator and Coordinator Rivu Dasgupta. We’re also talking with Alanna Diggs, who is co-chair of Four Front, a council for minoritized student groups and student voices. She's also a diversity peer educator. Here's a sample of our conversation with Rivu. To hear the whole show, click the arrow.

When were are talking about diversity and inclusivity, what are we talking about? I think some people may think those sort of sound like the same things.

So diversity and inclusivity, I prefer the term inclusivity because diversity has kind of been thrown around so often that it's lost meaning. Inclusivity is an attitude expressed by a person, group, or a space where certain identities, all identities really, can feel comfortable and not threatened in that space. So, inclusivity kind of abandons this notion that diversity is a numbers game. For example a diversity as a numbers game approach might be, this many people in this group. And now that's not to say it doesn't have a place, in certain spaces. For example, Concerned Student 1950 , one of their demands was having a 10 percent increase, or 10 percent base level for faculty and staff, so diversity has its place in certain respects. However inclusivity differs in that it's not necessarily about that 10 percent, it's about okay if there was this one person of this one identity, would they feel comfortable here? The reason inclusivity is preferred is because you can't have quotas with all identities, for example, trans identities, it's completely unrealistic when you don't have 10 percent of the student body as openly trans because it's just not safe, to ask the faculty to be 10 percent trans. So when looking at issues of identity and isolation, diversity becomes a useful word, but when looking at just the broad spectrum of all possible identities, inclusivity is the word we prefer because we want that one person who identifies as a trans woman of color to feel safe in a certain space. If that person feels safe in the space than the space is inclusive.

When we are talking about people sharing their stories, I understand what you are saying because it seems like it would be impossible to go and tell a group of people "You should behave this way" because I'm not sure that's how people learn behaviors. When people are sharing their stories how do you sort of facilitate that and have you seen any moments of real understanding blossom between people?

Actually one of the coolest things about doing facilitations is the fact that you do them for organizations where people know each other really well. So for example, some of my favorite examples are facilitations for Greek chapters, because these are people who call each other brother and sister and afterwards I've had people come up to me and say things like I had no idea my sister went through that, my brother went through that, that really helps me to provide perspective on things. Because what we do basically is these things are very difficult to talk about, no one sits down with their friend and says 'Let's talk about inclusivity.' That's not very common. So what we do is we give people that platform and it's amazing to see what people have been through, what they've experienced, people who you're hanging out with everyday just the stories they have, listening to your peers share that, really connects with people. So I like to say it's a form of consensual education almost. It's one of those things where if that peer of yours was to go on Facebook and comment on your status or something, that's a very different dynamic. It's a lot more threatening it's a lot more coded, where as what we provide is 'Hey, what have you been through? Oh really, how did that feel?' Then your peers are listening to that and it's very raw, it's very emotional, it's in person up front up close, and that elicits some pretty cool responses. I've had people come up to me after facilitations and say 'Oh, I no longer feel appropriate approaching race from a colorblind perspective,' or 'I no longer am going to say that's so gay, I didn't know it was actually hurting my brother, my sister in this way.' And that's not to say it's exclusively to Greek organizations, it happens all across the board, and actually some of the favorite facilitations I've done involve when professors jump in and say I had no idea my students experience that and it's so important to be a professor and to teach and engage with students instead of teaching at students.


So you are all constantly having conversations with each other and with the groups you're working with. This last semester has been really dynamic on campus. We've seen racism brought to the forefront of our campus conversation. Have conversations that you've been having with people changed this past semester?

Yes and no. So, it's one of those things where we've actually been getting this question a lot, we've been getting questions of the form 'What are you doing now?' and things like that. And the interesting thing is, you can't necessarily say that racism popped out of nowhere. This has been building for years, and actually in certain form, this type of dynamism as you pointed out, has been happening in repeated bursts at Mizzou, we just happen to have the luxury that it happened in our four years here as students. It's been happening frequently and in 10 year bursts or 20 or so year bursts whatever you want to call it. So we've heard this time after time, this is sruff we knew about. We were not surprised when things took place for example when the N word was shouted at people during homecoming. These are things that in a certain fashion we actually hear in facilitations. We here people's stories, we hear people express views that would actually be the foundation to yelling something like that. And so have we changed anything? No, we've just been doing what we've always been doing because we've always been hearing this stuff. It's just that for the first time the community at large has been hearing it too. That's not to say that we don't have more relevant examples now, but in certain form we've always have had relevant examples to give when doing these facilitations. It's just that now I guess people believe us more which is actually pretty useful.

Interview has been edited for length.

To hear the rest of our interviews, listen to our entire show. Intersection is produced by Caty Eisterhold and Ailin Li. Our community outreach team is Kara Tabor and Hellen Tian. 

Sara Shahriari was the assistant news director at KBIA-FM, and she holds a master's degree from the Missouri School of Journalism. Sara hosted and was executive producer of the PRNDI award-winning weekly public affairs talk show Intersection. She also worked with many of KBIA’s talented student reporters and teaches an advanced radio reporting lab. She previously worked as a freelance journalist in Bolivia for six years, where she contributed print, radio and multimedia stories to outlets including Al Jazeera America, Bloomberg News, the Guardian, the Christian Science Monitor, Deutsche Welle and Indian Country Today. Sara’s work has focused on mental health, civic issues, women’s and children’s rights, policies affecting indigenous peoples and their lands and the environment. While earning her MA at the Missouri School of Journalism, Sara produced the weekly Spanish-language radio show Radio Adelante. Her work with the KBIA team has been recognized with awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and PRNDI, among others, and she is a two-time recipient of funding from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
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