MATT HAMPTON | Reporter
To celebrate the life of civil rights leader Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and foster conversation on relevant social issues, the university held two open forums in Dunseth Auditorium. On Tuesday, the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Taskforce, Chaplain’s Office, and Office of Student Life and Diversity hosted a Diversity Dialogue on “Social Justice, Social Order, and Civil Rights” and on Thursday they held a student panel on the experiences of diverse Lindenwood students.
Thursday’s event was the first diversity dialogue featuring an all-student panel, which consisted of Black Student Union president Allen Mitchell, Gender Sexualities Alliance vice president Alison Smith, international students Amir Hossein Shahri and Misaki Yano, and Kennady McCann, a student in a wheelchair. The forum was introduced and moderated by Dr. Shane Williamson, Vice President of Student Life and Diversity.
Yano, from Japan, and Shahri, from Iran, spoke about the experience of internationals adjusting to life at Lindenwood.
“When I came here, I said, ‘I have two choices: either I have to hide my beliefs to get accepted by other people, or I have to let them know the truth and be ignored and be rejected by people'” said Shahri, who is Muslim, “But actually none of that happened[…]they didn’t ignore me, they didn’t reject me, but they actually got interested as well to know about my culture.”
Both said that the college and its faculty are accommodating and welcoming to foreign students, and they made friends easily, although Yano, who has lived in America since she was 14, noted that other internationals tend to stick to their own culture.
McCann recounted issues she faced living with a disability on campus, including a lack of handicap dorms available on campus her first semester.
“After arguments with my parents and housing, in the middle of the semester they moved me into a non-accessible room in which I fell in the bathroom because my wheelchair can’t fit in there,” she said.
She also raised other concerns, such as ramps being too steep to safely use and the handicap co-ordinator’s office being on the third floor of a building with no elevator.
“Whenever people are building something like that, if they’re not disabled, they’re not thinking of those things,” McCann said.
Smith, an art education major, described the fear of violence which makes some LGBT+ people feel unsafe, and housing issues for transgender students. The audience discussed ways to make the campus more welcoming and what students should do if they have been discriminated against. Some supported mandating Safe Zone training for faculty or students.
Mitchell, a Senior, said, “Some of the [Gen ed] classes, students will say, ‘Oh, well I’m never going to use this again.’ That may be true, but Safe Zone training is something that you’ll be able to use every day.”
The Tuesday forum had three faculty members as panelists: Dr. Andrea Boyles, a criminal justice professor at Lindenwood-Belleville, assistant professor of English Dr. Melissa Qualls, and Dr. Jeanie Thies, a political science professor. Qualls served as moderator, opening the diversity dialogue with a monologue about Confucianism.
“[Confucius] knew that social order wasn’t enough. A society that ran smoothly, but was built on injustice and corruption, could not and would not endure. I think these are the same concerns that inspire us to be here today, ” she said.
Boyles, an African-American, is the author of “Race, Place, and Suburban Policing,” works as an ethnographer documenting social issues by interviewing individuals impacted by them, and is currently researching in Black communities in the St. Louis area.
“My participants are typically anonymous and I assign pseudonyms to them, whether that is because they are disclosing information surrounding police-Black citizen conflict or whether there is information dealing with criminal incidents in their communities,” she said.
Both panels were at 3:30 p.m. and were part of a series of diversity dialogues which started last semester after the Jason Stockley incident. There was also a Martin Luther King rememberance service at 4 p.m. in Sibley Chapel on Wednesday