By Abigail Wisniewski
Concordia’s student body is represented by people from across the world, who have different political, cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds. The Student Committee for Diversity and Inclusion has spent the fall semester taking steps to educate and engage students in order to create a more welcoming community for all students at Concordia.
“On a very basic level it’s an organization that’s focus is to create community, regardless of your background or other factors that students are dealing with,” senior Justus Thompson said. Thompson is the chairman of the committee.
One of the committee’s primary goals is to educate students and help them to consider the different backgrounds of their classmates.
“We feel like a lot of the battle is just (that) people just don’t know. It’s a lot of ignorance. So we feel like … the goal of our committee is to raise the awareness and people’s education on certain issues,” Thompson said.
One area of diversity that the committee addresses is the culture shock many students face when they come to Seward.
“ … We have people on this campus that come from New York City or they come from a big city in Texas like Austin or San Antonio or Dallas, and they come to small-town Seward, Nebraska. It’s a little bit different, “ Thompson said. “In addition, we have students that come from smaller towns in Nebraska to Seward. They think Seward is a big town. So how do they navigate that? This is an organization to help them to communicate things that they’re dealing with on campus.”
Life in Seward can also be difficult for international students, especially if their classmates do not attempt to understand their culture.
“I think steps can be taken for different cultures to be more included and feel like a bigger part of the community and I think a huge part of that is down to really just a lack of knowledge,” senior Toby Downs said.
Downs is an international student from Hong Kong, which has been wrongly reported as “China” in some articles in the Sower.
“Subtle things like that can make such a difference to how someone feels a part of the community,” Downs said. “It’d be like saying someone from Guatemala is from Mexico. It’s close, but it’s not. It just makes you feel like no one understands you, so that’s the idea of the thing is for the spread of knowledge.”
The committee hopes to spread knowledge through a potential mentorship program, and speakers, such as Jason Thompson, director of diversity and inclusion of the United States Olympics Committee, who spoke on Oct. 17. Thompson addressed racial biases and promoting inclusiveness on campus.
Though it is not the only issue, the committee hopes to create dialogue about the reality of racial discrimination on campus. Concordia’s population is 77 percent white, according to the National Center for Education Statistics in 2016. That majority can be a difficult atmosphere for minority students to navigate.
“I’ve talked to seniors who graduated before me that were black … and they said ‘Yeah, there’s a lot of racial discrimination that goes on at Concordia but we never talked about it,’” Thompson said. “Don’t just let it go under the mat. If you don’t challenge ignorance, it just continues to be ignorance.”
Thompson also pointed out the imbalance of minority students here for reasons other than athletics.
“It’s difficult for me to see that the majority of minorities on our campus are athletes. I think that’s a struggle when you take a serious look at our campus,” Thompson said. “Are we using athletics as a means to get minorities here instead of just recruiting minorities?”
Both Downs and Thompson stressed that the goal of the Student Committee for Diversity and Inclusion is to be just that—inclusive.
“It isn’t about race, it’s about culture,” Downs said. “It’s not a nationality thing … it’s more than that.”
The club respects that Concordia is a Lutheran institution, and is not looking to change that fact. Their goal is to create an inclusive community for all students, regardless of where they come from, race, religious background or political ideologies.
“They’ve signed to come here, they’ve chosen to come here, they’ve paid to come here,” Downs said. “Respect that.”