Heritage month celebrations ease continuing the diversity conversation

Updated: Feb. 11, 2019 at 1:10 p.m.

Diversity has dominated the conversation on campus for the past year.

The ongoing discussion was sparked by a racist Snapchat post with the caption “Izzy: ‘I’m 1/16 black'” that featured two members of Alpha Phi, one of whom held a banana peel. Students spoke out in the following weeks to express that while the image illustrated an issue with racism on campus, it was not an isolated incident – and changes need to be made.

With a national spotlight on GW, the University responded by creating mandatory diversity training for all incoming students and hiring a director for diversity and inclusion. GW instituted a slew of other initiatives to combat racism and the conversation continued, but it can’t stop now.

The next few months are dedicated to celebrating minority cultures. This month is dedicated to celebrating Black Heritage Month and next month we will turn our attention to South Asian Heritage Month before honoring Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month in April.

Throughout the academic year, there are five cultural heritage celebrations that focus on racial background and a specific minority community. In addition to those taking place this semester, Latinx and Native American heritage months occurred in September and November, respectively. Each month, there are several events that are held to discuss issues and topics that affect the specific community as well as keynote speakers and special guests.

These themed months are an opportunity for students, faculty and administrators to improve their understanding of different cultures, and especially in light of recent events on campus, it is more important than ever to get involved.

While the scandal brought tangible changes to campus, it is hard to measure how much the student body itself has changed. Diversity training is a great first step to educating students, but all students can expand their education over the next few months at events taking place on campus and around the District.

Exposure and understanding are key to creating a more inclusive community, and the answer can be as simple as attending an event outside your comfort zone. Heritage celebrations offer multiple ways for students who may not be part of these communities to learn about a culture that is different from their own.

It’s important to acknowledge that heritage celebrations have the dual purpose of serving both the specific minority group while simultaneously offering a window for those not in that particular community. There is no right or wrong way to celebrate one’s own culture and it is ultimately up to each individual student to decide how involved – if at all – they want to be in these cultural events.

It is easy to stay in your comfort zone. It is easy to remain in your bubble. But unconscious bias is a main way that hurtful statements and offensive remarks permeate society, and some of this can be aided by simply being aware of other cultures and broadening your understanding.

The University has done its part in continuing the conversation on race and creating some solutions to the problem, but there is always more to be done. GW should continue the conversation on race even as the racist scandal moves further into our past, but students need to do the leg work too.

In the next few months, it will be easier than ever to break out of your comfort zone and learn about a culture other than your own, and students should use this as an opportunity to become more educated, think about others and grow closer and stronger as a student body.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Renee Pineda and contributing opinions editor Kiran Hoeffner-Shah based on conversations with The Hatchet’s editorial board, which is composed of managing editor Matt Cullen, contributing social media director Zach Slotkin, managing director Elise Zaidi, sports editor Barbara Alberts and culture editor Lindsay Paulen.

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