by Latisha Ellison
Kent State University’s Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and the Office of Global Education hosted “Comparing Diversities Conference” at KSU’s Florence campus in Italy December 1 and 2.
The two-day conference explored themes like diversity, identity and equality from both an American and European perspective. The conference brought scholars from America and Europe to explore and debate these themes.
Being a student abroad in Florence this semester, I had the pleasure of attending the conference and meeting some of the speakers. Retired Northern New Mexico College’s president Nancy “Rusty” Barcelló, spoke about identity and joined the student session to listen to our discussion about the conference. Barcelló reminded us that identity is important and it’s important to know who you are in order to effect change.
Being a biracial woman of color living in the United States, I have had my fair share of identity crises in my short 21 years, but talking with Barcelló reinforced my determination to understand my identity. By understanding who I am and acknowledging the privileges I still have, only then will I be able to make a difference. Diversity is personal for me, just like so many of the American speakers at the conference. This isn’t the case for Europeans and the European speakers. When Europeans think about diversity, they think about people who speak different languages or have different cultures. It’s just not as personal as it is in America.
In America, we have a murky history of how our country was founded: by oppression and degradation of people of color. Our history is one of the reasons diversity in America is blatant and talked about. In Europe, the history among countries is pretty similar therefore; its form of diversity is in terms of language, cultural and ethnicities, and while race is one of America’s main forms of diversity, race isn’t even a concept in Europe. Sometimes we like to forget about the past, but knowing our past and our history is the key to understanding why our country operates the way it does.
During our student discussion led by Giorgio Ridolfi and Andy Wyatt, student assistants at KSU Florence, Ridolfi, who is from Florence, told us that there is diversity among Italians geographically. Northern Italians are different than southern Italians, so much so, that if he were to visit Sicily, he might not understand the people there because their dialect is much different than Florentine’s.
It was interesting to hear that, which made me think about how the US is also different geographically. The north is different than the south, and the west coast is different than the east coast. Different parts of our country have different dialects and customs typical to said region, but I don’t think we think about those differences all that often.
I think the three big takeaways from the conference were: understand the past, continue open dialogue and look toward the future. We have to acknowledge that we have made great strides in diversity in the United States, while at the same time acknowledging that there is still more work to be done. One of the ways to continue making a difference is to stay educated and be willing to learn more and stand up in the face of injustice. Creating a space, like the conference, provides the perfect opportunity to have an open, honest dialogue about diversity and how we can continue to do better. With all that being said, Kent State students and young people all across the world are the future. It is up to us to follow the work that has been done and improve upon it to make sure that everyone is included and treated equally.
The conference came at the perfect time when tensions are running high in the United States and it’s looking a lot less united than we thought. I think it was eye-opening for everyone in attendance. We were all able to understand a little bit more about each other and our role in accepting diversity.