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Students explore diversity in classroom setting

Brookings S.D. (KELO AM/KELQ FM) - Chief Diversity Officer Jaime Nolan-Andrino takes the message and mission of the South Dakota State University Office of Diversity to students each semester with presentations in class settings. She’s been invited to speak to the human resources management class, several honors classes as well as several first-year experience groups including a section of freshmen music students taught by Don Crowe.

“Diversity is a central theme in SDSU's First-Year Experience courses,” said Crowe,“Nolan-Andrino's presentation and the class participation activities she led increased our awareness and understanding of this complex topic. I look forward to having her back this year.”According to Nolan-Andrino, the central question she brings to each presentation and training she does is “Why should you care about issues of diversity and inclusion?”

“My goal is to cultivate a sense of pause and mindfulness in an often busy and unreflective world, make assumptions visible and then create the possibility for an authentic connection and deeper understanding of one another,” she said, “This is what diversity truly is about, and it is from this place that we begin to build an inclusive community.

”The exercises begin with students breaking into pairs to ask each other simple questions—“Who are you?” “What do you want?” “Who do you pretend to be?” The speaker then asks the listener, “Who do you think I am?”“More often than not, students are surprised by how well the person listening to them seems to know them, and by how much they have in common,” said Nolan-Andrino. “We then talk about how easy it is for us to assume things about people without even pausing to consider.

The students also experience how impactful taking time—even just a minute and a half (the amount of time they are given to respond to each question)—is to creating that space for pause and potential connection.”Through a series of questions, students are also asked to evaluate their own priorities and values by moving to different areas of the room denoted with signs that represent different aspects of a person’s identity—spirituality, sexual orientation, racial identity and socioeconomic class, for example.“The diversity exercise was an eye-opening experience for me,” said Stephanie Bossman of Bridgewater.

“Getting to see how other people feel about specific aspects of their lives in comparison to the way I view those same aspects in my life made me appreciate the differences we all have as individuals. It was a great way to get to know people more in-depth and opened the door for valuable friendship between classmates.”By the conclusion of the class period, student Matthew Fowler of Sioux Falls had developed his own definition of diversity: “Diversity isn’t just noticing that people are of different culture or class, but looking and celebrating that we can all be here together.”