Greek orgs celebrate diversity on campus

gabriella patti

Students at Grand Valley State University gathered to educate others and discuss what it means to be a minority at the university during the event “Two Colors, One Struggle.”

The brothers of Phi Iota Alpha fraternity, the brothers of Sigma Lambda Beta and the sisters of Sigma Lambda Gamma joined together to host the third annual event on Thursday, Oct. 23. They brought together three speakers from different ethnic backgrounds.

“The purpose of (the event) is to educate everyone in this room about the struggles and stereotypes that some individuals have to face,” said Gregorio De Leon, president of Phi Iota Alpha fraternity, Inc.

The event also educated students about cultures other than their own.

“The stereotypical idea of Grand Valley is that it is a predominately white campus,” De Leon said. “It is not really to blame anybody but enlighten them on some of the things that other people have to go through. It’s to shed light on those issues.

“The only way to create a better community is for everyone to understand what everybody else is going through.”

GVSU alumni, Shingi Mavima, currently working on his Ph.D. in African and African American studies, shared a presentation emphasizing the similarities between Latinos and Africans. He shared similarities in cultures as well as similarities in how both groups have been treated and stereotyped.

“It is important to realize the similarities not only among ourselves, but similarities in how the dominant culture views us, and it is important that you put up a unified fight,” Mavima said.

Natalie Gallagher, a senior at GVSU, said she is stereotyped regularly at the university and in her travels around the world. Gallagher identifies as a Muslim Caucasian gypsy and said she faces regular discrimination as a Muslim due to the media’s portrayal of the religion.

Gallagher said that how she sees herself often surprises those around her due to stereotypes based on propaganda. She added that regardless of whether people realize it or not, media and propaganda often influence their ability to see others clearly.

“I feel like because of our social current affairs I have to show people all of the things I am not before I can show them the things that I am,” Gallagher said.

For example, due to negative assumptions others make about Muslims, Gallagher says she has been asked to answer for groups such as ISIS.

“Islam is a huge part of who I am,” she said. “It does define who I am but not in the sense that society defines it. That becomes a barrier between me and everyone else.”

This blame game will bring society to a dead end, Gallagher says.

“If you are using blame you are letting ignorance and the negative assumptions (take over),” Gallagher said. “The blame game prevents you from getting to know people. You are closing yourself to a whole demographic of people to learn from, to benefit from. Rather than blaming, a better reaction would be to seek the truth.”

The final speaker, Rebecca Velasquez-Publes, director of programs at Health Net of West Michigan, spoke about feeling isolated and discriminated against in a professional setting.

“(Racism) has been happening for years and years,” Velasquez-Publes said. “You have to be conscious of it because that is the only way that you will be able to change the system.”

Velasquez-Publes encouraged others to take what they learned and pay it forward so that no one ever feels alone.

Gallagher added that resources continue to grow and challenges everyone to be informed and aware about stereotypes in today’s society.

“Where we learn, we grow,” she said. “There is something we can learn from everybody.”

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