Members of four different University of Southern Mississippi organizations hosted a student panel and group discussion Tuesday night about student diversity and involvement. The Vice Provost of Academic Affairs, Amy Miller, led the meeting.
Miller said she hopes this panel will set a foundation for more discussion on diversity and inclusion on campus. Miller started the conversation by asking the audience what diversity and inclusion meant.
Students said diversity was when a group of people have different backgrounds, ideas and values. Those values can range from religion, race, ethnicity, gender, physical ability and more. According to the group, inclusion is when those different perspectives interact, coming together in a safe and engaging way. A professor in the audience said inclusion was the effort to include and bring people on the same table.
Each student on the panel took a moment to share his or her perspective. The four students said their childhood environment was not diverse. Through Southern Miss and the organizations they have been a part of, they have welcomed and learned more about diversity, different cultures and themselves.
“It has been a huge shaping experience for me,” junior and president of Advocacy for Civility, Equality, Safety and Social Justice Jack Hoda said. “We have diversity at USM, and it has shaped me to be a better me.”
“VSA is a multicultural organization and it has helped me find myself,” Alexis Oanh Le, a senior and president of the Vietnamese Student Association said.
Imani Harris, a junior and president of the Afro-American Student Organization, said she wants to spread more knowledge and wants to educate her friends and peers.
“There were pieces of me that I couldn’t explore because of where I grew up,” Harris said. “College and [AASO] gave me the opportunity to explore black history and America and how they come together.”
Janay Morgan, a member of the Social Work Club and a senior, said she took a class on diversity that opened her mind; she was able to understand different people’s views and mindsets.
“Getting to know people different than you opens and changes your mind,” Morgan said. “I’ve put myself in uncomfortable situations, and it’s helped me for the better.”
A student in the audience asked the panel how they deal with prejudice.
“Deal with the individual,” Harris said. “Be direct, firm and honest. Don’t do it publicly.”
Hoda said dealing with prejudice is different based on the situation and the relationship you have with the person or group.
“I recognize my privilege, but I hear about my friends’ experiences,” Hoda said. “I feel it’s wrong not to say something.”
Oanh Le said to try not to get personally offended because some people are unaware.
“Be an advocate for what you are representing,” Oanh Le said. “Help make the person understand who you are.”
Dr. Miller said the student panel talked about how much the school impacts their lives and helped them grow to be more diverse and inclusive. She asked what the university could do to improve the community as a whole.