GV community engages in discussions about race, experiences


GVL / Macayla Cramer

Madison Steigerwald, Staff Writer

Grand Valley State University’s Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) aims to create an inclusive and diverse campus through open communication, collaboration and shared lived experiences. 

Throughout the school year, OMA hosts several events and invites guest speakers to educate students and staff on issues of race, culture and inclusion. This past week, they held their monthly event, Conversations of Color, which aims to create discussions around race, identity and current events.

“Conversations of Color focuses on relevant aspects of news and society, or heritage months that are taking place,” said Higher Education Graduate Student and leader of last week’s discussion, Mae Rickey. “We incorporate one or all of the Laker Connections Groups, including Asian American and Pacific Islanders, Native and Indigenous, Latino/Latinax and Black students.” 

The conversation this month focused on race-based violence.

While the topics discussed at Conversation of Color events are typically planned far in advance, this conversation was held on account of recent acts of violence against the Asian-American community such as the shooting in Monterey Park, California following a Lunar New Year Celebration.

At a predominately white institution, Rickey said it’s important to shed light on issues for students of color and acknowledge the realities they face.

The conversation included statistics regarding hate crimes in the United States. In 2019, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security found that racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists, especially white supremacists, would likely continue to be the most lethal domestic violent extremism (DVE) threat to the country.

In 2021, 64.8% of hate crimes were reported to be related to race and ethnicity according to the Department of Justice. Of those crimes, 8.1% occurred in a college or school setting. 

Rickey said these statistics can be very frightening to minorities. She said this places a burden on students and professors of color to teach both themselves and others about hate crimes, racial violence and active shooter protocol.

Because of this, OMA works to educate students of all backgrounds and create a more diverse and inclusive campus at GVSU. 

“Conversations of Color’s main goal is to provide students of color with a place to talk and show there are people addressing these issues,” Rickey said. “Sometimes, we will go out and ask students, ‘What are issues you want to talk about? What are things going on? How can we be better?’” 

Having collaborative learning experiences and seeing the empathy that people want to learn and share lived experiences can play a role in creating a diverse and inclusive community.

Skylar Gelock, a senior studying elementary education, said she attended the event because she wants to learn more about diversity and inclusion for her future career as an elementary school teacher. 

“I work in a daycare now in the Grand Rapids area with a lot of children from different backgrounds,” Gelock said. “I think it is important to educate myself on how I can create a diverse and inclusive environment for my students now and in the future.” 

Rickey believes the work being done by OMA with Conversations of Colors is making a difference in the social atmosphere at GVSU.

“I definitely think it is improving the social atmosphere,” Rickey said. “People from different majors and departments are coming to our events and then they are able to bring those experiences, conversations and insights back to their classes with their own perspective. If we are able to change one mind, that can create a ripple effect.”

Rickey also said there are other organizations on campus that help to create a diverse and inclusive environment for students. She said the Asian Student Achievement Program, which she co-chairs, was created just three years ago and contributes to creating a more welcoming environment for Asian students at GVSU. 

Rickey encourages students interested in getting involved to attend the free events put on by OMA.