Diversity panel to feature veteran, immigrant, addict

Bradie Gray

Minorities, veterans and addicts all have something in common.

They attend class daily, just like everyone else.

The Counseling Center, the Center for Social Justice Education and Housing and Residence Life will hold a diversity-focused panel titled “The Ties That Bind” in order to highlight the similarities within the student body.

The three students represent various walks of life; a muslim immigrant, a student veteran and a student who has struggled with addiction and substance abuse.

Of USI’s population 12.6 percent of faculty and 11.2 percent of students were minorities in 2013 according to the university.

According to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs’ Campus Toolkit, in the same year, over a million student veterans in the U.S. were using their GI benefits to further their education.

More than 150,000 students have developed an alcohol-related health problem and between 1.2 and 1.5 percent of students indicate they have tried to commit suicide within the past year due to drinking or drug use according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

“This is all of us reaching out to our students and colleagues and having an open discussion,” said James Dickerson, assistant professor of social work and director of the Center for Social Justice.

Dickerson is the man behind “The Ties That Bind” and is a big part of the planning process for the panel.

He said all students and faculty are invited to come, eat pizza, listen to the stories and participate in the discussion.

“I hope it will bring out an open discussion of really how we’re all alike,” he said. “We all have dreams. We all have hopes.”

Stephanie Cunningham, a therapist at the counseling center helped come up with the idea to develop a discussion-based forum that would create a dialogue focused on diversity.

“We came up with this idea of finding folks who represent marginalized stereotyped groups and people who folks would typically stereotype, or just not have very much information about,” Cunningham said. “We wanted to find folks that would be willing to share their story and hopefully educate people about other people’s experiences and challenges with those stereotypes.”

Cunningham said she doesn’t feel that diversity is a problem at USI, but it is necessary to highlight the ways we are all similar.

“The Ties That Bind” is scheduled to start at noon Thursday in UC 2217.

She hopes the panel will make it easier for students to talk about differences and how they shape student experiences, and prevent people from making assumptions.

“I think that we do a good job here as a community talking about diversity, but I do think it’s always helpful both to recognize differences and to also recognize the ways in which we are all very similar,” Cunningham said. “I think if we highlight difference too much, it creates artificial barriers that don’t need to be there.”