In an effort to make the University of Richmond campus more inclusive, students are in the process of creating two new organizations that will provide more opportunities for diverse perspectives to come together. 

On March 5, President Ronald A. Crutcher sent an email addressed to the UR community with the subject line “Fostering a Thriving, Inclusive Community.”

“What can each of us do to create and sustain a campus climate where all feel a sense of belonging?” Crutcher asked in the email.

At least two groups of students have been working to create such a climate. One group is in the process of bringing the Asian Student Union back to campus and another group formed the Inclusivity, Diversity and Equity Advocates, or IDEA, committee.

Sophomore Katie Pokorny said she had been inspired to bring ASU back to campus after attending the East Coast Asian American Student Union conference, held at Cornell University, last month. At the conference, Pokorny said she had encountered something that she had not yet in her time at UR. 

“ECAASU is a really good way to connect with people who share your same values and ideas,” Pokorny said. “Everyone's there because they really care and want to promote and talk about being Asian, which is really cool, and not something you find here.”

For Pokorny, the encouragement of this type of dialogue is the foundation of what diversity really is. 

“I hope that ASU can be a group that people can feel comfortable in and be able to discuss various ideas cross-culturally, too,” Pokorny said.

Pokorny asked Lisa Miles, associate director at Common Ground, to serve as the faculty sponsor of the ASU. Miles, who has worked with Common Ground for 11 years, said she remembered when the ASU had been a vibrant organization on campus and wanted to help bring it back.

Pokorny and Miles see the ASU as an important umbrella organization because of the variety of different Asian identities that students represent on campus. 

“White Americans will very freely say ‘Asian people’ as if it's like one specific group, and it’s so not,” Miles said. “We have students from so many different backgrounds who've been raised within the culture, or have been raised by white parents, or have lived in that country – a real range of experiences.”

First-year Phillip Daniel also is trying to promote and foster cultural diversity on campus, along with his fellow executive members on the IDEA committee.

The listening tour conducted by both student governments last semester inspired Chiara Solitario, president of Westhampton College Government Association, to form the IDEA committee, Daniel said.

“One thing that Chiara saw was that there was a drastic difference between the experiences of the white majority on campus and students of color,” Daniel said.

Daniel’s dream for the IDEA committee, which is separate from the student organizations, is to get the entire school involved with its initiative, he said. With this extensive support system, Daniel said, the voices of marginalized people on campus could be amplified.

“What diversity means to me is diversity in all aspects of life,” Daniel said. “Not just a bunch of black and brown people coexisting in a white-dominated space. That's not diversity, it's just living amongst the majority.”

Miles also acknowledged this issue and said that the presence of a seemingly diverse student body did not define true diversity.

Both Pokorny and Daniel said they realized the importance of diversity in social events on campus.

“The social side really defines a person’s experience in college,” Daniel said.

Right now, Daniel sees the social atmosphere at UR as made up of predominantly white Greek life, he said.

Pokorny wants to use the ASU to organize more social events and activities, she said. This would include bringing back Asian Heritage Week celebrations, which have not existed on campus in the past several years, Pokorny said.

Daniel said he thought that it was his responsibility to make UR a better place for not only him and his peers, but for those that came after him.

“If we’re going to keep promoting this school to marginalized groups and sort of painting this picture of inclusivity and equity and diversity, then I feel it is up to us to make sure that picture is being painted,” Daniel said.

Pokorny shared this sense of urgency and will be presenting her plans for the ASU to a group of student and faculty members next month. If the group votes in the ASU’s favor, her organization should be running next fall, she said.

Contact social media manager Gabriela Telepman at gabriela.telepman@richmond.edu.

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