By Steve Nakata, Division of Student Affairs
With so many equity and diversity events happening on campus throughout the year, they are often difficult to keep track of and many don’t receive the attention they deserve.
In collaboration with students, faculty and staff, the Division of Student Affairs created Unity Week as a way to encourage more coordination and communication among the organizers of these events, as well as make them more visible to the campus community.
A series of workshops have been planned ranging from how to become an ally to undocumented and LGBTQ students, to how to build coalitions across divides and de-escalate conflict. The events conclude with Spring Unity Week April 20-26. Visit the Unity Week page on the Student Affairs website for a complete list of activities, dates, and times.
Jaime Nolan, associate vice president for community, equity, and inclusive excellence, led a group in organizing the first-ever Unity Week last fall. The effort was well-received among students, faculty, and staff, and encouraged the team to plan an even more comprehensive Unity Week this spring.
“Unity Week provides a powerful opportunity for the Coug community come together and for all of us to affirm the positive as we continue the work of fostering a campus climate where all are safe, valued, and can succeed,” Nolan said.
Working through differences
One workshop that has garnered a lot of interest recently is conducted by Charlie Powell, public information officer for the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine. Using his experience interacting with animal rights groups over the years, he shares useful tips for how you can de-escalate tense situations.
He believes de-escalation methods differ somewhat depending on whether you are having a disagreement with an individual in a more private space, or with a group of individuals in a more public space. It is important to have the appropriate knowledge and skills to protect yourself and others around you.
“As difficult as it is to restrain yourself when provoked in a public setting, you are not considered less of a student, or less of a human being, for walking away from the situation,” said Powell. “Traditional de-escalation methods are not going to work in those situations and I’ve found that young people are yearning for people to help them understand these complex issues.”
As a student leader who also works on campus, Cesar Castaneda has seen instances when tempers flare during disagreements. Tension occurring between people is just part of being human. The problem, Castaneda said, is that conflict often triggers an emotional response that people don’t know how to effectively manage.
“De-escalation training can provide a logical framework to help us work through our disagreements in a more civilized way,” he said. Powell’s next de-escalation workshop is Tuesday, April 2, 5:30 p.m., in the CUB Butch’s Den.
Raising up equity and inclusion
Unity Week was largely created to affirm unity and what it means to be a member of the Coug community. The week also provides an opportunity to connect and coordinate across our campuses.
Susan Williams, a member of the Graduate and Professional Student Association, said some groups were creating duplicate programs and there was little coordination or communication taking place between them.
“By bringing these programs together as part of Unity Week, we are able to raise them up and show people the many great things happening on campus,” she said. “And this is what unity is about!”
One of the groups creating programs for the WSU community is Black Men Making a Difference (BMMAD). Club president Orion Welch said traditionally the university’s culture around diversity and inclusion communication has been reactive in nature. Unity Week is a positive step in the other direction.
“We can really benefit from more streamlined communication between student organizations and WSU departments,” he said. “It will help all of us become more proactive in our efforts.”