Student-led “talks” teach tolerance

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Student-led “talks” teach tolerance

Bobby Shipman

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Growing up in Chicago, Ill., Danesha Shelton never felt defined by her status as a black woman.

The sophomore social work major was shocked when she came to Evansville, Ind., to attend USI.

“When I moved to Evansville, I had never been more aware of the fact that I was black,” Shelton said.

Working part-time at Old Navy, Shelton said many older, white people will avoid use of her checkout line, even if it is the only one empty.

“It has come as something I am just starting to accept, especially being in the Evansville area, because I know that most people don’t get the exposure,” she said. “Especially being an African–American woman on campus. So I have come to just take it as it is.”

Race was the first issue addressed in a soon-to-be series of culturally and socially relevant “Tolerance Talks.”

Many in attendance directed their questions straight to Shelton.

“I feel like I am speaking for the entire black race when I am just a tiny person,” she said.

Shelton and fellow resident assistant Haley Fulk hosted the talk on Tuesday, Feb. 25.

Fulk, a junior Spanish major at USI, said she came up with the idea for the talks out of frustration about people’s intolerances and misunderstandings of how to treat people with diverse backgrounds.

“I had a moment where I was pretty fed up with ignorance,” Fulk said. “The thing about ignorance is it seems to be voluntary.”

Fulk’s “Tolerance Talks” will serve the purpose of helping eliminating ignorance on USI’s campus, she said.

Fulk said the talks will cover a variety of “touchy” subjects from abuse to religion. The next talk, which is currently unscheduled, will focus on the LGBTQ community.

“Basically what we are trying to do is approach students in a way that’s low-key,” she said. “The best way to do that is to have their friends, their roommates, their RA’s (and) people on campus they see everyday talking to them.”

The atmosphere will not be like that of a professor lecturing to the class, but an open, comfortable discussion, she said.

“What we’ve done is we’ve reached out to people we feel are well equipped to talk about their experiences (and) have been impacted by one of the topics,” she said. “This (is) going to be guided by professionals on campus such as professors (and) student health center people, as well as the counseling center.”

Although attendance proved minimal, the discussion flowed continuously from beginning to end.

Junior pre-dental hygiene major Allison Kinney expected something different before entering the basement of the Rice D. Library where the event was held.

“I thought it was going to be more nerve-racking for people, even for me because I had some questions that I was nervous to talk about,” Kinney said. “But it ended up really well and they answered all of my questions.”

Kinney said she thinks more of USI’s campus needs to get involved with the talks, from Greek life to the amigos and even resident assistants in training.

“I think everyone should be more exposed to this because if we don’t get this out there and people are not comfortable asking about these situations, it’s never going to resolve,” she said. “I think this issue (Race) is always going to be here if we don’t spread it out more and talk about it more.”

Kinney said she plans to attend “Tolerance Talks” in the future.

“There are still issues out in the world. There are always going to be issues, unfortunately,” she said. “But, I am definitely going to come to these more often because it is going to help me grow as a person and to help other people in the future.”

Although no present date is set for the next talk, Fulk said it will be held sometime after spring break.

“I really hope people end up attending this program, not only because they see it as an opportunity to learn about other people, but they see it as an opportunity for personal growth,” Fulk said. “You never know when you’re going to be impacted by a situation where you are encountering people different than you. That’s life – encountering people that are different than you. I hope it’s worthwhile for them.”

The Shield plans to update this story online as new information becomes available.