March 16, 2009

‘Summit of Change’ marks diversity anniversaries

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Just a century ago, women couldn’t vote and the election of a black or bi-racial president would have been virtually impossible in America. A lot has changed since then and a new event coming to Southern Illinois University Carbondale later this month celebrates those kinds of changes and seeks input in planning an even better future for SIUC.

“The Summit of Change: Diversity Anniversaries” is a community gathering to honor the past, celebrate today and map the future. Students, faculty, staff and the community at large are welcome to be part of the free gathering 7-9 p.m. March 23 at the Student Center Auditorium. There’s even free pizza.

“The Summit of Change will help audience members to clearly see the interconnectedness of the various struggles for respect, decency, justice and fair play as we come together to acknowledge the past, confront the present and actively engage in helping to shape the future for SIUC,” said Carl Ervin, coordinator of Student Development-Multicultural Programs and Services. “It is a wonderful opportunity to reinforce the understanding that the objective of our work with diversity isn’t to create an ‘us versus them’ but to foster a ‘we as humanity’ perspective.”

The year 2009-2010 marks a number of significant anniversaries, event organizers said, including the 100th birthday of the NAACP, the 90th of women’s suffrage, the 55th of the Brown vs. Board of Education landmark Supreme Court case, the 45th of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the 35th of the Vietnam Era Veterans Readjustment Act, the 60th of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 50th of “A Raisin in the Sun” and Motown, the 40th of the Stonewall Riot and the founding of the Black American Studies program at SIUC, as well as President Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday and the 80th birthday of Dolores Huerta.

“These anniversaries truly represent the threads of a tapestry -- threads that have stayed supple enough to withstand backlash, elastic enough to expand and include many more dimensions of diversity beyond race and ethnicity,” said Carmen Suarez, director of the Office of Diversity and Equity at SIUC. And yet, she notes that, despite the election of President Barack Obama, color lines and inequities exist in America.

“The Summit of Change is designed to harness the energy, enthusiasm, promise and hope of the inauguration and this remarkable confluence of anniversaries,” she said.

The event will feature an open dialogue focusing on the critical issues of social justice and diversity. A wide array of thought-provoking topics and scholars are on tap and organizers say the summit is a unique chance for people to visit the past, examine today and map a real plan of action to make SIUC and tomorrow better.

“This is an opportunity for our SIUC community to reflect on and respect past and ongoing struggles and efforts and collectively begin the process of determining directions of change for an even more welcoming, inclusive, supportive and vibrant SIUC,” Suarezsaid. “The showcasing of some of our SIUC social justice scholars is deliberate: we have the leadership and tools we need to determine and achieve our diversity and equity goals.”

Featured scholars speaking during the Summit of Change will be:

• Ronald A. Caffey, Black American Studies assistant professor.

• Patrick W. Dilley, educational administration and higher education associate professor.

• Rachel A. Griffin, speech communication assistant professor.

• Michelle Hughes Miller, director of University Women’s Professional Advancement and associate sociology professor.

• John T. Warren, speech communication associate professor.

The Office of Diversity and Equity and Student Development-Multicultural Programs and Services are sponsors for the Summit of Change in collaboration with faculty members from across the campus. Event organizers hope the summit will become an annual event, a time each year to come together to honor the past and plan the future, to facilitate positive change.