Student senate aims to highlight diversity


By Samantha Jones Toal

Every day, students pass by hundreds of strangers as they walk around campus. Briefly, they might take notice of what someone’s wearing or what they look like.

Now, with the launch of the Illinois Student Senate’s Faces of Champaign campaign, students can get to know individuals beyond just recognizing their faces.

Twice a week, the ISS plans to post a picture of a student on their Facebook page, accompanied by a story about their background along with the hashtag “Faces of CU.”

“It’s basically a campaign that highlights the diversity on campus in a way that makes sure everybody’s voices are heard,” said Farah Chalisa, senior in LAS and chairwoman of the Cultural, International and Minority Student Affairs subcommittee.

She said that CIMSA exists to make sure all minorities on campus are represented, especially in regards to the student senate.

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Naveed Akhter, senior in LAS, helped Chalisa start the initiative. He is also a member of CIMSA as well as the photographer for the initiative.

To create the content for each post, Akhter finds different minority students and then asks them about their background and involvement on campus.

“Increasing inclusivity means increasing voices,” Chalisa said. “We don’t want to hide diversity, we want to highlight diversity.”

The campaign began on Oct. 26 and, so far, the first two posts have accumulated a combined 150 ‘likes.’ Tara Chattoraj, sophomore in LAS and ISS director of Communications, said the Facebook posts have reached 7,663 people since the start of the initiative.

“I think it’s really been resonating with our audience,” she said. “My roommates had no idea that I was any part of this and were still really excited about it.”

Both Chattoraj and Chalisa compare the project to the popular Humans of New York Facebook page, in which people in New York City are photographed and asked questions about their lives. Around 15 million people support, or follow, the project based on Facebook ‘likes.’

Chalisa said Humans of New York’s success inspired them because everybody has a story to tell.

“On campus we have a lot of diversity, but it’s not always represented,” she said. “We come from so many different backgrounds that it’s easy to fall back into your subgroup of diversity.”

Jamal Simmonds, senior in Engineering was spotlighted by the campaign at the beginning of November. He shared his story and thoughts about diversity on campus with Ahkter, who then shared it on the ISS Facebook page.

“It’s great to learn about the cultures of different people so that you can use them in yourself,” Simmonds said. “It can add on to who you are and allow you to become a better ‘you’ overall.”

Simmonds said he thinks the campaign will mainly reach those seeking diversity.

“It’s not going to reach those who are already in their niches,” he said.

He also explained that if it reaches as many people and groups as possible, it could help promote diversity on campus.

The student senate plans to continue the campaign at least throughout the semester and possibly into the next year. Chattoraj mentioned plans to continue working on their social media presence and potentially broadening the initiative to the ISS website.

Overall, Chalisa said the purpose of the project is to showcase differences and increase acceptance on campus.

“We’re trying to highlight the fact that we’re all different, but we’re also all the same,” she said.

“We’re emphasizing that we’re a diverse campus and that benefits us.”

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