Education Human Rights

Athens community confronts its differences during diversity outreach forum

Photo by Marilyn Icsman
Written by Marilyn Icsman

The Patton College of Education hosted an Outreach Forum on Tuesday to discuss how diversity could be integrated into the Athens community. The forum, titled “Advocating for change: Silence is Complicity,” was open to the public and included faculty, students and members of the Athens community.

According to Connie Patterson, the assistant dean of the Patton College of Education, the purpose of the event was to challenge those in attendance to think about how they approach diversity.

“We want conversations that help us to promote civil discourse among our college and among our university,” she said.

Sara Trower, executive director for Ohio University’s Office of Equity, Civil Rights and Accessibility, first commented on the importance of open discussions.

“What is disturbing to me is that civil discourse has become uncivil,” Trower said. “Knowledge is power, and talking to and connecting with each other is so important.”

Tyrone Carr, the OHIO Special Assistant to the Vice Provost of Diversity and Inclusion, noted that while some people questioned why the college of education hosted the event, the choice was fitting.

“This has to be the place because the real solution is to educate across campus,” he said.

Carr added that issues of diversity will keep causing problems unless they are addressed.

“We have a lot of shame and guilt around race relations and all of our differences,” said Tracey Stuckey-Mickell, vice-president elect of the Midwestern Educational Research Association and a professor at The Ohio State University. “We are really all in this together, so I think it’s time to stop being afraid of drama and confront it, because I think there’s peace on the other side of that.”

Mayor Steve Patterson stressed the importance of understanding the community outside of Ohio University.

“If you travel a few miles outside of Athens you are in a place that is very different than what a lot of students have ever experienced before,” he said. “Students who come from more suburban or urban areas sometimes have bigotry toward people from these places. What is needed is an open minded dialogue and learning back and forth across the community and across the entire county.”

Patterson has pursued his goal by introducing an annual police-community barbecue that allows community members to talk to law enforcement in a relaxed environment; however, he said that Athens still has a long way to go.

“Right now it is baby steps moving forward to fully integrate the community,” Mayor Patterson said.

After the panel expressed their thoughts, the forum split into small groups to discuss attendees’ personal experiences with diversity. Several participants raised questions about the best way to educate young children to help them feel comfortable confronting hard issues.

The group then discussed how to continue the conversation. Suggestions included organizing roundtables, including the undergraduate student population more, reaching out to public schools and continuing to involve local law enforcement.

“I would like to see more full community engagement,” Mayor Patterson said. “The issue is not OU or academia-centric, it’s all about community.”

Joy Cobb, a student success advisor for University College and the Patton College of Education, said she attended the event to open her mind to how others view diversity.

“I wanted to learn how to become a better part of any community, she said. “I also came to help inform my work with students in advising and teaching.”

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Marilyn Icsman

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