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Community of Cultures

New student organization UBORA Men supports male students of color in their pursuit of excellence. From left: Samaj Schell, secretary; Malik Turner, vice president; and Davis Kazako, president

New student organization UBORA Men supports male students of color in their pursuit of excellence. From left: Samaj Schell, secretary; Malik Turner, vice president; and Davis Kazako, president

In the fall, diverse groups of students walked the campus on a mission, accompanied by IUP President Michael Driscoll, other administrators, and faculty members. Their purpose was to explore whether their particular cultures were represented on campus and to point out where the university may be falling short. IUP’s leaders, in turn, got to see the campus through the eyes of these students.

Nabiha Islam

Problems were uncovered, and plans for change are in the works.

Nabiha Islam ’18, who is pursuing a master’s degree in criminology, was among those who took part in this “walking audit” of campus. A graduate assistant in IUP’s Social Equity and Title IX office, she helped compile notes from students’ observations.

Efforts like these appear to be working. Since coming from Long Island to IUP’s Cook Honors College as a freshman six years ago, Islam has noticed changes at IUP.

“Coming here was the biggest culture shock for me,” she said. “I definitely think we’re getting better. It feels like there’s less tension than there was before on campus between different racial groups and ethnic groups.”

The walking audit is one example of work being done all over campus to achieve that change, said Elise Glenn, IUP’s chief diversity and inclusion officer and Title IX coordinator.

“These are ongoing strategies to develop the culture, not just one-offs,” Glenn said. “Every time we do something, it’s part of a purposeful effort to grow our culture. All of these actions fit under that umbrella.”

The university’s efforts can be grouped into three main areas of cultural development: training and education, empowering students (in the classroom, on the athletic field, and in their social lives), and engaging all members of the IUP community in a vibrant, inclusive, equitable culture.

“I do truly believe that training is one of our most effective tools if we’re going to make the culture change that we need to make,” Glenn said. “If we don’t understand how Black and Brown students feel, how students from other marginalized groups feel, what obstacles they face, and address those, we can’t make the improvement in our culture that is needed.”

Bringing diversity facilitator Justin Brown M’13 to campus three times to talk with students, student leaders, and employees has been a highlight of those training efforts, as has the work IUP faculty and staff members have done on the Difficult Dialogues Project, which offers guidance in conversing with people of different viewpoints.

Initiatives like Breaking the Barrier discussions that tackle diversity-related topics aim to empower students, as does support for student groups like UBORA Men, which helps male students of color realize their full potential.

In October, the Anthropology Department presented “Is Race Real?” a program examining the role of race in society. This spring, a panel discussion on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the professional workplace is planned, featuring alumni and others who are active in that field.

Austin Marsico

Student leaders, like Islam and like Austin Marsico ’20, who is working toward a master’s degree in school counseling, also are forces for positive change on campus.

As former vice president of IUP’s Diversity Peer Educator Program, Marsico has given presentations to student groups—most recently a fraternity and a women’s sports team—on topics such as race, gender, and ageism.

Through a graduate assistantship, Marsico is starting a peer mentoring program for students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and other sexual identities. Marsico is also working with Tedd Cogar of the Center for Multicultural Student Leadership and Engagement to assist IUP’s Pride Alliance organization.

“I’ve seen change come, especially in the last year,” said Marsico, who has two bachelor’s degrees from IUP, one in religious studies and the other in English literature. “Professors are really interested in listening to students and making things better for everyone.”

Islam has also been involved through her assistantships on campus. Last year, she helped with the Culture Café, which was started to give international students a comfortable setting in which to ask questions and to get to know others on campus. This year, she is helping organize a new group, IUP Students against Racism.

“I’m definitely happy I came here. It came to be my home away from home,” Islam said. “I think there’s a bright future for IUP, going up from here.”