Diversity discussions held at University

Talking about identity helps individuals with issues they normally would not discuss.

Is assisted suicide related to living independently? Does finding out an unborn baby will have a disability raise ethical questions? Can a disability be “cured?”

These questions and others were raised in the Williams Arena and Sports Pavilion on Tuesday in a club room three floors above University Avenue.

“Breaking Through the Silence About Disability” was the fourth in a five-part series of dialogues organized by the Office of Equity and Diversity to address how identity shapes the community.

Claire Walter-Marchetti, associate to the vice president and vice provost for equity and diversity, emphasized the importance of gaining a greater understanding, and therefore respect, of the myriad individuals in an increasingly “heterogeneous” state like Minnesota.

“What we’re trying to do is to get people to understand more about difference,” she said.

Walter-Marchetti said understanding diversity is “extremely important in attaining that goal of achieving world-class excellence.

The event began with personal testimonies from community members who have lived with or known others with disabilities, and then broke into small group discussions.

Linda Wolford, manager of student services in disability services and one of the events facilitators, said she hopes opening a discussion relieves some stigma associated with disability.

Living with muscular dystrophy, she said she has received her share of “sad” or “tragic” looks.

She said discussion helps break through this by getting “people to talk about something they might not ordinarily talk about.”

Public policy graduate student Ross Neely was one of more than 50 people in attendance.

Neely said he values the importance of addressing diversity, and would like to see the University put more pieces in place to further the event’s goal.

“The more we talk about it, the more we kind of carve out ways to act on it,” he said. “The silence is deadly.”

Rusty Barcelo, vice president and vice provost in equity diversity, said her office has talked about putting together a series on identity development for awhile, and she was pleased to see it come together.

“That’s what an educational institution does – we teach,” she said. “We’re teaching each other here today.”