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SMC hosts diversity conference

Megan O'Neil | Thursday, March 2, 2006

Long a buzzword on campus, diversity will once again be the central topic of discussion at Saint Mary’s tonight as the Student Diversity Board’s (SDB) inaugural Diverse Students Leadership Conference (DSLC) gets underway at 8 p.m. with live musical and dance performances in O’Laughlin Auditorium.

The conference will continue Friday with a series of leadership workshops and diversity-related lectures targeted at high school and college students.

The conference is intended to foster leadership potential and to prepare participants to function in a diverse environment, conference chair Claradith Landry said.

“We hope every participant is progressive,” Landry said. “We want them to come to the conference perhaps having some kind of underlying prejudice, not even [being conscious of it] … but then hopefully as you go through each workshop you learn something about yourself, you learn something about your community and about society and about different cultures.”

The marquee performer at tonight’s entertainment portion of the event is Atlanta-based rapper Eddie “Double E” Clark, who appeared on the UPN show “The Road to Stardom with Missy Elliot.” Other acts include Troop ND, Baile Forklorico, the ND/SMC Irish Dance Team and Notre Dame senior Jason Laws’ 2j Productions.

Friday’s workshop titles include “The Co-optation of the ‘N’ Word,” “Taking Point: A Leadership Approach for Those Who Are or Shortly Will Be in Leadership Positions” and “Implementing Sustained Dialogue on a College Campus: The Process, Obstacles and Benefits.” Vice President and Dean of Faculty Pat White will give a speech at the closing Reception at 6:30 p.m.

Conference organizers have been collecting pre-registration forms all week, but students can sign up from 1 to 4 p.m. today in the foyer of the Student Center, co-chair Angeline Johnson said. The workshops are also free, she said.

Co-chair Kimberly Hodges said professors, particularly those in the social work department, have been supportive of the conference. Some are taking their classes to a workshop while others are offering extra credit to those students who attend on their own.

“Having the faculty support is very, very important because if we have Pat White … on board you can pretty much expect to have all of the faculty with us,” Hodges said.

The idea of a diversity conference at Saint Mary’s was born a year ago after Landry and Hodges attended the South Western Black Student Leadership Conference at Texas A&M University, Landry said.

Inspired by the leaders they met, the pair intended to launch a similar event at Saint Mary’s as board members of the Sisters of Nefertiti, a campus club.

“We wanted to do it under that particular club, but we realized that it would be too much of an event or too big of a responsibility to handle with four people in a club,” Landry said.

Shortly thereafter, Landry was elected vice president of SDB. After bouncing ideas off Johnson, president of the Latina group La Fuerza, she decided to push forward with the idea under the auspices of SDB.

Landry and Johnson met every Saturday during spring 2005 to discuss the goals and contents of the conference. In the fall, they assembled a committee of 22 members.

Johnson also attended a leadership conference – the Cool Idealist Conference in Berkeley, Calif. – in March 2005, and the pair used their trips to help design a framework for the DSLC.

“We kind of pooled all our experiences together from going to different kinds of conferences, and we discussed what were the best workshops that we went to and what had the greatest impact on all of us,” Johnson said.

The result was a conference that intends to inspire student leadership and prepare participants for a world of people from mixed cultural, religious and economic backgrounds.

“Part of this is preparing people to go into a world that is more diverse than Saint Mary’s and preparing them to work in that world,” Johnson said. “So we did want a wide range of work shops,” Johnson said.

She also wanted to tap on-campus resources in organizing the workshops, Johnson said, so several professors and staff members are among the presenters.

“Considering our budget and the amazing professors we have at this school, we [decided we] might as well look inward and try and find professors who have hosted workshops or who have some kind of interest or expertise in something we want to share with all these students,” she said.

While SDB is spending $3,000 from its own account, the club also received $1,500 from Walgreen’s, $1,500 from Saint Mary’s Board of Governance and $3,000 from the Center for Women in Intercultural Leadership (CWIL) to help fund the conference.

The Saint Mary’s Admissions Office, one of the conference co-sponsors, has been continuously involved in the planning of the conference. Last semester, Vice President for Enrollment Management Dan Meyer asked members of SDB to help the College in its effort to diversify the student body by extending itself to minority applicants, Landry said. The DSLC was a good opportunity for that outreach, she said, and organizers met with Meyer every week to tailor certain workshops to high school students.

The conference is proof that Saint Mary’s is doing more than just sitting back and talking about diversity, Landry said.

“We want them to see that Saint Mary’s is a welcoming environment and that this is a priority for us,” Johnson said.

While other SDB events, such as the fall SDB Bonfire and discussion forums, have been successful, they tend to attract the same audience of already-concerned students, Hodges said. She said she hopes this conference will draw individuals who might not consider diversity a big issue.

Despite the past few hectic weeks, Hodges said she is already thinking about conference plans for next year.

Landry said she hopes this year’s conference sets a precedent at the College.

“We want to leave a living legacy,” she said. “We want to make sure Saint Mary’s adopts this … [and just] takes ownership of it and that this is something they are proud of … and will continue on for years,” Landry said.