Students should embrace campus diversity

Josh Hafemeister

Black History Month, Gay and Lesbian Pride Month, Coming Out Day and National Hispanic Heritage Month are just a few of the select holidays promoting a particular race or cultural lifestyle.
Yet, hate crimes still permeate our culture. Last year, the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek was the scene of a shooting that left seven dead including the shooter, a white supremacist.
Earlier this month, a Wisconsin teen was jailed after harassing a gay couple with anti-gay slurs and vandalizing their home in Racine.
It seems redundant to say in a liberal arts university that knowledge and education can bring about acceptance of diverse cultures.Yet it needs repeating.
UW-Whitewater endured several reported hate crimes in 2010.
Late one Sunday night in September 2010, a woman wearing a “Legalize Gays” shirt was called an anti-gay slur and punched in the face by one of two male assailants while walking down Tratt Street.
In November of that year, a female student was harassed by two white males one evening while walking past the cemetery near Goodhue Hall.
One of the men shoved the woman into the fence, pinned her there and made crude comments about her sexual orientation before leaving her.
The next day, on Monday, Nov. 8, three cars owned by African-American students were vandalized. The damage included slashed tires and the letters “KKK” spray painted on the cars.
Knowledge is power, and in this case, such knowledge can bring a greater measure of peace between diverse groups in the U.S.
No one can force people to step outside their comfort zone and experience diversity, but that does not mean opportunities should not be given.
One such opportunity is Boxes and Walls, a diversity experience meant to put students into the place of those who are oppressed or the objects of hate speech and harassment, was developed at UW-Whitewater in 1998 by Residence Life. This event is now used by more than 300 campuses across the U.S.
The event already has taken place this year, but it will be presented to students again next year.
Events like this are key to showing students what it is like to receive hate for being a part of a minority.
Students can explore outside their comfort zones on their own. Opportunities to meet people and explore other cultures or lifestyles are as easy as speaking to a student organization on campus and meeting people of diverse cultures and lifestyles.
Groups such as IMPACT, a group for LGBT students at UW-Whitewater, or the African Student Association for students of African heritage are some of the groups here on campus students can speak to.
UW-Whitewater promotes accesibility for students with many types of disability such as paralysis, blindness, mental disorders and more.
There are ample opportunities for students to meet with students with different disablities and learn to understand what their lives are like.
If history has shown us anything, it’s that racial and cultural bigotry never fully disappears. The targets just change.
Knowledge and understanding are key to breaking the barriers between races and cultures set up by bigotry and fear.
To curb hatred, students and faculty must not only observe diversity; they must be active participants throughout their lives.
By stepping out of their comfort zones, members of the UW-Whitewater community can gain positive new experiences and broaden their horizons by getting to know individuals from different backgrounds.