By JASMINE TURNER
As my four years slowly simmer to an end, I find myself thinking back to UMW’s mission statement about diversity and inclusion. The mission, and goal, has always been to create an environment on campus that puts an emphasis on providing a “comprehensive, university-wide approach to diversity and inclusivity, access and equity.”
The mission statement is drilled into almost every classroom on campus, printed within the pages of admission’s brochures, and promised to minority students who to attend every fall. It’s promised, yet, speaking as a minority student, it is rarely ever seen (at least in the way it is promised.) The efforts have been made and haven’t gone without notice, but they’ve been the same efforts repeated over my four years here.
The one thing I have also observed in this time lends to the belief that diversity and inclusion do not start at the level of a university-wide approach; they start in places much smaller, much more intimate, and much more realistic. Though the goal is to bring awareness with a university-wide approach, it has been my personal experience that this type of awareness starts within one’s own major department and grows from there.
Having access to people and places where there are faces and experiences similar to your own is vital to understanding identity and one’s position in an already difficult transition, at least that is my understanding. I found this help within the ELC department among some of my English and linguistics professors. The emphasis put on providing everyone with access and equity on this campus, became clearer for me when I chose to become an English major. It was one of the first times I saw the effects that this inclusivity, access and equity had on my academic success. How I initially found my identity and came to the realization that then new identity helped me grow started not in my first year here, but in the second semester of my junior year.
The point of diversity and inclusion up until that point had always been to make everyone comfortable with one another and to give everyone an opportunity to experience others. In an instant, it became about allowing students to be comfortable with themselves and to experience themselves in an atmosphere where that access and equity seemed less achievable. From classes that explore race, gender and sexuality with an in-depth textual analysis relating to current and real world problems, to a department that exemplifies various representations in an otherwise predominantly white institution atmosphere, it’s refreshing and reinforces the idea that diversity is important.
That diversity is important to the success of the individual and the university as a whole. The mission starts at the individual level, with in the smaller parts of the university. It starts in departments where students are allowed to see representation and experience, rather than read about it in a brochure. It starts when you can walk into your advisor’s office, a classroom or have safe discussions on the third floor of combs, sit down and know that someone understands you, what you’re going through, and remind you that who you are matters.
It starts in departments that look at all sides, that comb through everyone’s experiences and find common ground that is accessible and provides every student with what they need in order to understand themselves and then others.