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SMC administrators concentrate on diversity

Emma Driscoll | Friday, February 1, 2008

Saint Mary’s College will bring experts, college students and high-schoolers together Feb. 13-15 for the third-annual Diverse Students’ Leadership Conference (DSLC).

“The mission and intention is to educate and foster intercultural interaction among participants,” said Larisa Olin Ortiz, director of multicultural affairs. “What the students wanted is to challenge participants and to reconsider how diversity plays such an important role in our world today.”

Organized by the Diversity Board, the DSLC was first held at Saint Mary’s in 2006. It was the first conference organized by students for the College’s campus.

The DSLC will address issues including immigration and race issues, social and economic injustice, sexual orientation, disability awareness, women in the business world, cultural diversity and body issues through a variety of presentations, according to Erin McGuire, Student Diversity Board public relations chair.

Some presentations will be in the form of a workshop, while others may be lectures or interactive seminars.

Educator and humanitarian Dr. Johnetta B. Cole will deliver the closing keynote address entitled “Are Diversity and Inclusion on Your Agenda?” McGuire said. Cole served as president of Bennett College for Women from 2002 to 2007 and as president of Spelman College from 1987 to 1997. Both are historically black colleges.

“She represents what the conference is all about,” Ortiz said. “It’s about leadership, it’s about women making a difference in the world. We’re thrilled to have her as our keynote speaker.”

Dr. Gwendolyn Dungy, executive director of NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, will deliver the opening keynote address.

The DSLC also offers a Diversity Showcase, which will include poetry readings and performances by the Notre Dame First Class Steppers and G-Mime, McGuire said.

DSLC will also offer a career fair with companies such as Walgreen’s and First Source Bank. “There’s a lot of stuff going on besides panels and workshops,” McGuire said.

Conferences organizers have extended the invitation beyond Saint Mary’s. “We have students coming from IUSB, some students coming from Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s, University of St. Francis, Goshen College and Manchester College,” Ortiz said. “We’re focusing on reaching out to different institutions of higher education so that they will come and not only learn, but also share with us some other experience.”

Local and prospective high school students are invited to the conference.

“[They will learn about] the same issues, but more geared toward a high school audience.”

Student body president Kimberly Hodges said the DSLC not only attracts prospective culturally diverse students to the campus, which is important for recruitment and retention, but the conference also helps build Saint Mary’s relationship with the community.

“[The DSLC] puts Saint Mary’s back to where it needs to be in the community of South Bend,” Hodges said. “Instead of just being in South Bend, we are part of the community of South Bend because, speaking from my experiences, this conference continues to connect us to underrepresented individuals of the community,” Hodges said.

Ortiz hopes that attendance is even higher than last year, when 300 people came to the conference.