April Ryles / Sun File Photo

The Student Assembly, which meets in Willard Straight Hall, is spearheading the inaugural Diversity and Inclusion Summit.

March 8, 2018

9 Student Organizations to Participate in S.A.-Led Diversity Summit

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The inaugural Diversity and Inclusion Summit will bring together leaders of student organizations on March 18 to share strategies and possible challenges to making Cornell a more accepting community.

The event will consist of a series of workshops led by nine Cornell organizations, including Outdoor Odyssey, the International Students Union and the Cornell Women’s Resource Center.

Mayra Valadez ’18, vice president of diversity and inclusion for the Student Assembly, will be spearheading the event and said that she invited organizations that were not usually associated with diversity and inclusion to approach the topic of inclusivity from a new angle.

“The burden is placed on multicultural organizations,” Valadez said. “My idea was to bring together student organizations that you wouldn’t necessarily think about when you hear ‘diversity and inclusion.’”

She mentioned that, although the summit has been in the works since before fall, student offenses that occurred last semester made this event especially timely.

“Last semester, we saw a lot of events shake our campus that were unprecedented and it was hard to think about how we could respond to those events as a student body,” Valadez said. “[The event] is a way that the S.A., in particular, can bring together leaders of byline organizations and other organizations on campus that are doing really good things.”

According to Valadez, the organizations will collaborate with one another and have full autonomy in regards to the topics they choose to present to attendees, as long as they acknowledge intersectionality and cater to students that their organization does not directly represent.

“We have a lot to learn from our peers and this is an opportunity for these organizations to put on their own individual workshops,” Valadez said.

Valadez explained that, while organizations are created to further the agenda of their own academic or socio-cultural goals, they inherently influence how their members interact with their peers.

She hopes that attendees of the conference will come out with the knowledge that they have the autonomy to change their organizations from within.

According to Deepa Saharia ’18, diversity chair for Outdoor Odyssey, the mentality that Outdoor Odyssey lacks mentality that Outdoor Odyssey lacks an obvious connection to issues of identity or equality is problematic and should not stop organizations in a similar position from occupying space within the diversity community.

“It is still part of the way in which a lot of groups on campus function,” Saharia said. “The reason that we are connected to it is the reason that all people are connected to issues of inclusion and identity.”

She said that, as the diversity chair within an organization, recognizing the power of institutional change is important because individuals are constantly participating in institutions in order to survive in our society.

“It is important for organizations to recognize their capacity to make people more conscientious,” Saharia said. “My goal with improving the diversity program with Odyssey is to give myself and my peers in the program the capacity to follow through in our time at Cornell, and in our lives beyond that.”

Dean Xu ’18, ISU president, said his organization wants to raise awareness to all students across campus, not solely international students, because the organization is trying to speak to diversity in a broader sense.

“We wanted to talk about how to better engage international students on campus and also how we, as the International Student Union, can engage more students that don’t identify themselves as international,” Xu said. “We do realize that there is a lot of intersectionality across the community.”

Xu said that, while most of ISU’s member are international, many of them are also involved in other organizations on campus, allowing them to generate new ideas based on the diversity of thought.

“A lot of our members are very involved in other organizations that deal with other communities as well, and can provide a perspective on how we can improve in connecting those communities,” Xu said. “The change starts when different people in the same community get together, and that is represented through student organizations.”