Diversity conference celebrates 11th year

Maria Ruettiger, Contributing Writer

The Office of Inclusion and Academic Engagement, along with the office of the vice president of student affairs, held the 11th annual EIUnity Diversity Conference Friday.

This conference consisted of different types of educational sessions including: “Gender, Identity and Activism in the Art Museum,” “What you need to know about people with disABILITIES,” and “The impact of first-generation student status on graduate school experience.”

Mona Davenport, executive director of the Office of Inclusion and Academic Engagement, said the goal of the conference was to educate people about diversity, and she also said the conference has evolved in recent years.

“Every year, (the Diversity Conference is) the first Friday of the month and it’s usually our kick-off month for African-American Heritage month, but it is also a celebration of diversity,” Davenport said. “We wanted a university-wide program that we know that we could get information out to our students about the importance of understanding people that are different from them, (or just) being aware of (them).”

The diversity conference can serve individuals that are determined to gain familiarity with this concept and grow personally from it, Davenport said.  

Davenport said the event started 11 years ago to bring educational workshops to the campus.

The conference started out small with 30 people in attendance and has become successful over the years with the 2019 conference having 150 people attending, she said.

The conference does not limit who can come to it, but it is open to every individual that wants to learn about the importance of diversity, Davenport said.

Greg Westbrook, a junior sport management major, said he attended the conference because he wanted to expand his knowledge about diversity and, most importantly, learn more about the LGBTQA+ community. To Westbrook, he said diversity means everyone is equal, no matter what differences exist within them.

“Diversity means, to me, being different yet equal. You are diverse based off your own height, weight, gender, hair color,” Westbrook said, “anything of that number that makes you so different from somebody else, but you’re actually seen equal as a whole because at the end of the day, we are all human.”

Chas Figueroa, a grad student majoring in the college of student affairs, went to the conference to continue to be aware of the issues going on in the world and to gain more information to benefit their future career.

Figueroa said everyone has a different background and a story to tell, but there are some common things within different groups that can help people understand them better.

“I think it’s just (a) general understanding that every individual has kind of a different background and we have to respect that,” Figueroa said. “(Understand) that not every single person is the same and that behind every face is a story.”

The first session of the day started at 8 a.m., covering the Safe Zone Core Training for any person that wanted to become allies with the LGBTQA+ community. Following this session, there were concurrent workshops at 10 a.m., 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.

Maria Ruettiger can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected].