I-Connect should emphasize similarities, not differences


By Minju Park

All first-year students are required to attend a series of workshops designed to facilitate our education and promote dialogue about important topics such as alcohol safety, rape education and diversity.

On the issue of diversity and inclusivity, these I-Connect workshops work to “help incoming students embrace differences and recognize shared experiences in order to build a welcoming and engaged campus community.” http://oiir.illinois.edu/sites/prod/files/docs/Housingfaq_14.doc

While dialogue helps to open perspectives and facilitate learning, it is only the first step to enforcing acceptance and understanding on our campus.

During my own experience at the I-Connect workshop, the facilitators arranged a variety of activities to spur conversation about the different types of diversity present on our campus. These types were separated into categories: social class, race, ethnicity, nationality, age, sexual identity, religious identity and ability status.

Participants had to move around the categories and stand at the one that answered the question being asked. These questions ranged from, “which do you identify with the most?” to “which do you want to learn the most about?” After a short conversation with the rest of the group mates, a representative was chosen to explain the group’s thoughts to the class.

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Through these activities, the main goal of the I-Connect program seemed to be to educate students on how to be sensitive to microaggressions and be aware of the differences between students.

Although emphasizing sensitivity to others’ differences is important, what should be the bigger goal is that those of different nationalities, social classes and sexual identities don’t feel too different from the rest of campus at all.

One of the main issues that has caused the recent urge to stress inclusiveness could be due to international students feeling the gap of cultural boundaries is too large to form any bond with domestic students.

Amy Lin, an alumni of the University, spoke to Inside Higher Ed for an article about this phenomenon.

“I think a lot of international students here have this idealized vision of what their American life is going to be,” Lin said. “They described this gigantic gap between what they wanted it to be and what reality was.” https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/01/07/u-illinois-growth-number-chinese-students-has-been-dramatic

Rather than purposefully alienating each other, Lin explains that it is just a mutual misunderstanding between internationals and Americans that prevent them from approaching one another.

“There’s that cycle: International students are really shy about approaching American students, (and) American students don’t really want to approach international students,” Lin said. “And that makes international students clump together, and domestic students think, ‘Oh, they want to be friends with one another.’” https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/01/07/u-illinois-growth-number-chinese-students-has-been-dramatic

In order for students to facilitate inclusiveness, it is important to promote open-mindedness and acceptance along with the education on how to avoid alienation of students. When students only observe our differences and not our similarities, it enforces feelings of ostracization and isolation.

The same phenomenon can be observed on campus with regards to sexual identity. Just like with ethnicity, it is important to avoid being ignorant of everyone’s differences; however, learning about different sexual identities shouldn’t lead to treating people differently — merely being aware of what makes them unique.

A person who identifies as homosexual is more than just a label. People of all sexualities can share similarities in personality, values or interests that transcend labels.

I-Connect brings up important topics for discussion and thought in terms of the diversity on our campus. But the structure of the program’s activities isn’t as effective as it could be to achieve the inclusivity and integration that is sought after.

At this point, all I-Connect seems to do is make students more aware of how those around them are different, and emphasize those qualities. Perhaps organizing group discussions about similar values that students of all backgrounds share would be better for making everyone feel included. Helping students accept diversity is a complex issue, and perhaps the University has found I-Connect’s structure most successful. However, this problem still affects our campus, which means there’s room for improvement.

Instead of focusing on differences between students, it is just as important to realize the similarities that are shared among us as humans, promoting acceptance among all the diversity present at the University.

Minju is a freshman in LAS.

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