Our Nebraska, a series of events held March 6-10, gave students from all backgrounds the opportunity to discuss what it means to be diverse and how to create an inclusive campus and community.
Previously known as the Empowerment Forum, Our Nebraska offered events throughout an entire week rather than in a concentrated day-long seminar. Activities were sponsored by Student Affairs and the Office of Academic Support and Intercultural Services (OASIS) with co-sponsorship from the Diversity Council.
Slam Poetry Performance
The week began with a Slam Poetry Performance where eight students shared original content from personal thoughts and experiences. Topics included race, racism, gender, sexuality, body image, date rape, political ideologies, parental disagreements, generational issues and conquering long-held fears.
The charismatic, honest and emotional stories composed on stage laid the framework for "Empowering every story," the week's theme. While some performers were frequent orators and members of the slam poetry club, others claimed to be less experienced or out of practice. Regardless of experience level, all performances added to a captivating lineup.
Toward the end of the evening, junior Maddie Kimme's performance included a call to action that served as a call to inclusion.
"We're still stronger together... and none of us is going to get there alone," said Kimme.
Dish it Up! hosted by Marthaellen Florence
On Tuesday, Mar. 7, staff, faculty and students joined NET Nebraska Director of Community Engagement Marthaellen Florence for a Dish it Up! conversation on identity and racism.
Florence began with an activity that demonstrated how personal cultural lenses affect perception. She then shared her own recent experience with prejudice and discrimination. After, she instructed each table to discuss a time where they had perpetuated discrimination and a moment when they experienced discrimination.
Following the discussion, Florence asked everyone to share their vision for the future of diversity and inclusion on campus, and report back to the room. Groups envisioned a campus where diverse individuals student groups interacted regularly, diversity among leaders was more prominent and mental health was emphasized.
Before closing, Florence invited everyone to stand up one by one and verbally commit to making a change as a campus leader. She asked participants to listen to one another and to hold each other accountable to this commitment.
Graduate student Ashley Hurt said the discussion inspired her to take steps to improve the university.
“I [will be] an advocate for minority students and [keep] other people and myself accountable to what they committed to [in front of the group],” said Hurt.
Dish it Up! Part II, hosted by Eric Crump and Sara Gilliam
On Wednesday, Mar. 8, Eric Crump and Sara Gilliam led the second Dish it Up! conversation on standing up for your rights.
Crump and Gilliam were childhood friends who grew up in Lincoln. They recently reconnected when Gilliam, who is white, contacted Crump, who is black, about his thoughts about police brutality against African-Americans.
Crump talked about his struggles growing up as a person of color in a predominantly white area. He also discussed how his identity impacted how people treated him.
Crump and Gilliam both transferred out of their school district to attend Lincoln High. Crump wanted to be around more people of color, and Gilliam wanted to be at a more diverse school. Crump and Gilliam stated that even though Lincoln High had greater diversity, students did not regularly interact with students of a different race.
Crump explained the idea of safe spaces and their role in psychological well-being. He said that being a person of color can take an emotional toll, and having fellowship with people with similar experiences is important. He stated that white people should not expect people of color to always invite them into the safe space.
“Sometimes you get in, sometimes you don’t. There are times when it has to be just us,” said Crump. “You have to earn the right to hear people’s truths.”
Crump and Gilliam discussed the difference between a bigotry and a racism. They maintained that not everyone is a bigot, defined as someone who is vocal, violent and outwardly offensive. Racism, however, Crump says is far more common, and most people are racist even though they do not intend to be. Racism is the result of psychological conditioning, and it is built into the structures of society and institutions.
“White people don’t understand the prevalence or the permanence of racism,” said Crump.
Crump and Gilliam then took questions from the audience. Questions included how to parent a child to be accepting of others, how to expose others to different ideas, and how to shape and change the narrative of race in the United States.
The Extra Point hosted by Coach Mike Riley
On Thursday, Mar. 9, students, staff and faculty gathered in the West Stadium Club for The Extra Point, a conversation about race with members of the Nebraska athletic community. Lawrence Chatters, the diversity and inclusion coordinator for Nebraska Athletics, played host and interviewed guests Tiani Reeves, Phippa and Mike Riley.
Sophomore Tiani Reeves, a member of the volleyball team, shared her experience growing up as a black woman in Gothenburg, Neb., a predominantly white community. Reeves was adopted and raised by white parents. Her first experience with racism was in fourth grade when she was called the N-word. It was at that young moment that Reeves’ father told her that, unfortunately, she would have to work twice as hard to be just as good in the eyes of others.
Reeves admitted that when she first came to campus, she first struggled with acting the same around white and black people. Despite this challenge, she is learning to be true to herself.
“Everyone is loving and accepting if you just be yourself,” said Reeves.
Christopher Phipps, a former Nebraska student-athlete, performed original raps throughout the event. Phipps, who performs under the name Phippa, rapped his songs “Race Against Crime,” which discussed police brutality, and “Equality,” which promoted a community of equality. Phipps also performed a song he wrote to empower the Nebraska football team called “Bones in the Air.”
Next, head football coach Mike Riley took the stage to talk about his experiences while attending the University of Alabama in 1971 when the first African-American men played for the football team. Despite the campus environment, he said the shared values and love for football created a comfortable atmosphere for the team.
"It's kinda that place where, you know, as a team all those values that you have kinda supersede what's going on," said Riley.
He shared his thoughts on diversity within the team, the Athletic Department and the university.
"I call Nebraska America's team," said Riley. "We have a great foundation from local -- Nebraska and a 500-mile radius -- but then we get guys from everywhere. And I love that. I think it's just a great picture of college," said Riley.
When asked about internal team conflicts, he stated that if they arise coaches address issues. His goal is to have every player feel like they belong on the team.
An audience member asked about Michael Rose-Ivey’s decision to kneel during the national anthem last fall. Riley said that Rose-Ivey told his coaches and teammates about the decision before the game. They supported his decision, and Riley stated that he reminded the team that they do not always understand how others feel.
“The very first thing I talk about when we meet for the first time every year is respect,” said Riley.
Putting Ideas Into Action Hosted by Lory Dance
Associate Prof. of Sociology Lory Dance led Putting Ideas Into Action on Friday, Mar. 10 in the Kauffman Residence Center. In her presentation titled “UNL is Already Talkin’ Diversity and Equality,” Dance talked about using intergroup dialogue techniques for discussion.
Dance maintained that Nebraska students have a sincere interest in learning about diversity and having conversations around related topics. She suggested that staff and faculty should make more efforts to create courses and activities that utilize intergroup strategies to build on the preexisting interest in having these conversations.
“My takeaway point is not 'if you build it they will come',” said Dance. “If you thoughtfully facilitate, students will talk, faculty will talk, staff will talk.”
Intergroup dialogue is a method to facilitate discussion in a welcoming, safe and respectful environment. It includes letting people talk openly about how they feel, having honest conversations and learning from mistakes.
Dance asked each table to choose three different questions from a list of questions about race from students in her class. Then, a facilitator from each table shared the answer to the question to the entire group.
The conversation encouraged staff, faculty and students to share their perspectives and learn more about other people’s experiences.
“It can get exhausting to always have to speak up or feel like you have to speak,” said senior Maura Gray. “Sometimes you want to blend in, but you have to keep speaking up about your experiences.”