For Lillianna Franco, moving from the predominantly Hispanic community of Cicero, Ill. to Evanston for college was a tough transition, she said.
“It was very hard to take in at first,” the Communication sophomore said. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, I’m in a complete culture shock.'”
Now an intern for the Multicultural Student Affairs office, Franco is helping other students break out of their cultural comfort zones. At the conference “Beyond Boundaries: A Global Approach to Leadership and Inclusive Excellence at NU,” held at Norris University Center on Saturday, about 25 students gathered with administrators to discuss diversity on campus and in society. The event was co-sponsored by Multicultural Student Affairs, University Residential Life, Norris and the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs.
“The goal of the conference was to introduce the idea of diversity and inclusion to the campus community,” said Carretta Cooke, executive director of MSA. “We need to pay very close attention to the cultural differences we all bring to the educational experience on campus.”
The conference featured three keynote speakers and a number of workshops on the value of including diverse voices in campus and community conversations. Participants discussed the concept of “inclusive excellence,” a theory that relates to embracing cultural differences.
Vice President for Student Affairs William Banis said while numbers are up for African American and Hispanic students in the class of 2013, NU student life can still seem divided.
“So many groups on campus are exclusive by nature, the Greek community, honor societies,” he said. “The question is, ‘How do we move toward inclusion on campus?'”
Banis detailed NU’s successes and failures in a number of studies related to diversity on campus. In one study, NU was ranked “most respectful of cultural differences,” he said.
“When folks say NU is going to hell in a hand basket, it’s not true,” Banis said. “But we haven’t reached a state of inclusive excellence yet.”
Banis suggested the university continue to support inclusive classroom conversations and student groups like oNe Northwestern.
“We’ve seen a coalescence this year,” he said. “Students are saying they want a more inclusive Northwestern. We’ve made a substantial investment this quarter through many conversations about inclusion and diversity. We need to keep those conversations continuous.”
Michael Blake, deputy associate director of the office of intergovernmental affairs and public liaison for the Obama White House, also emphasized the need to make a variety of voices heard.
“Despite our different purposes, we have to unite as a people, which is the point of this conference,” said Blake, Medill ’04.
Blake, 26, outlined his vision for a more inclusive world in the closing keynote. He said he envisioned the end of discrimination and a time when religious differences could be accepted and appreciated. Blake also discussed the importance of health care, education and green energy investments.
“There are so many problems, but we can see them as opportunities for a new world, a new vision,” he said.
Blake told participants they shouldn’t wait to start bringing people together.
“If you have a new vision for a new world, then you’ll see the fruit of this conference,” he said. “If you really believe in something, you don’t have to wait to step beyond the boundaries.”