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 How Did You Come to Be Here?

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UMD Campus Invited to Share Stories
Everyone has a unique story

The entire UMD community is invited to answer the question, "How did you come to be here?" Long Xiong, Tawana Stocker, Susana Peylayo-Woodward, DeAngelo Johnson, Tom Isbell, Sara Thomsen, and Leo Howard bring a little personality to the task.

How did you come to be here? That is the question the entire campus community is invited to answer as UMD integrates the newly adopted, inclusive, core values and Strategic Planning Campus Action Plan into classrooms and activities.

Everyone, faculty, staff, administrators, and students, are invited to go to a special website, "Share YOUR story," and explain how he or she arrived at this college in Duluth. UMD has a goal of having an openly engaged campus. "When students, faculty, and staff—can talk about all the issues—even the difficult ones, we will be successful." said Susana Pelayo-Woodward, director of the Office of Cultural Diversity. "That's why we encourage everyone to share a story."

Chancellor Black and the UMD Diversity Commission invites faculty, staff, administrators, and students to participate in the 2011-2012 campus theme, “How did you come to be here?” The questions asked of the UMD community are: How did YOU come to be here? Are you indigenous to this land? Were your ancestors forced here in slavery? Did you or your ancestors immigrate? What was the interaction between different racial, cultural, religious groups in our ancestry? And in reference to the campus: Who is the UMD community now?

"The project is our collective attempt to make the Strategic Plan a living, breathing evolving force on the UMD campus," said Joie Acheson Lee, co-chair, of the Diversity Commission. "It asks all of us to become culturally aware by learning our own unique stories as well as listening to each other. We hope that it is a cornerstone in the foundation of an inclusive campus climate — a climate that in turn deepens our appreciation of our rich and multi-layered community."

Across campus, UMD has already begun using the diversity topic. Danny Frank, coordinator for the First Year Experience Program, introduced Bulldog Welcome week by asking 2,000 freshmen to answer 'How did you come to be here?' Susana Pelayo-Woodward is one of the leaders of the project. "The question is at once simple and profound," she said. There are a myriad of viewpoints. Some individuals have a history of sovereignty, immigration, or forced relocation. Others may not know all the details of their heritage, but can offer insight on their personal journeys. "There will be some unique combinations," Woodward said. "We know we need to be aware of different cultures in order to fully accept and celebrate our rich diversity."

Everyone is invited to "Share YOUR story;" watch the TEDTalks with Chimamanda Adichie, The danger of a single story; find inspiration in the various bulletin boards, posters, presentations, and campus wide discussions during fall 2011 and spring 2012; read, watch, and study.

Paula Pedersen, assistant professor and chair of the Curricular & Co-Curricular Integration Committee, said students, staff, faculty, and administrators are encouraged to consider their own unique story. Faculty and staff are encouraged to integrate the theme "How did YOU come to be here?" into the classroom or activities. "Integrating our core values into life at UMD will help us prepare our students to contribute to an increasingly diverse world," Pedersen said. "This is an opportunity for UMD to come together. As we encounter cultural difference and commonality, we also have the opportunity for increased intercultural effectiveness."

A website has been created that is dedicated to the integration of equity, diversity, and social justice into curricular and co-curricular offerings across disciplines. It includes information and ideas on creating an inclusive classroom climate, resources including videos, websites, curriculum examples as well as providing a place for faculty and colleagues across campus to provide tips and examples from their own discipline.

All of the instructors who teach the first year seminar received training on how to integrate equity and diversity, along with the theme, into their courses. Additional training will be available through the Instructional Development Service for faculty who are interested in participating and would like some assistance.

Bringing this diversity project into classes has already begun across the campus. Pederson and Joellyn Rock, assistant professor, Department of Art and Design, are bringing two classes together. Rock has given her students in the digital filmmaking class a visual narrative assignment. Students will create very short films, about one minute each, answering the question, “How did you come to be here?” The digital filmmaking students will make films on their own and with Pederson's students, who are also exploring the theme in a general psychology class.

This is one example of the ways that faculty and staff across campus are working together to integrate the theme.

The TEDTalks presentation, The danger of a single story, by novelist Chimamanda Adichie, resonated so much with the committee, they have recommended it for everyone to watch. In the clip, Adichie tells how she found her authentic cultural voice. She explains that by only hearing a single story about another person or country, people risk serious misunderstandings.

Long Xiong, president of the Asian/Pacific American Association and a student in the Labovitz School of Business and Economics agrees. “I grew up hating myself because of stereotypes. Because I now love who I am, I continue to share my story, not as a single story but as my own,” Xiong said. "That is why the 'How did you come to be here?' project is so great."

Students at UMD come from every state and from around the globe. The project helps people on campus to see how all have rich cultures and complex backgrounds. Xiong said. "Give me a sense of humanity, and I can promise that you and I are not so different at all,” Xiong said. "Don't ask me 'What are you?' but instead ask me 'Who are you?'"

The project includes a multi-media performance, Land of Plenty: How did you come to be here?, at 7 pm on November 11 and 12 in Marshall Performing Arts Center. The performance is produced by Sara Thomsen, directed by Theatre Professor Tom Isbell, and is presented with the involvement of the Duluth community, including Independent School District 709. For questions/comments on the performance, contact Joie Acheson Lee.

The project is led by the UMD Diversity Commission Curricular & Co-Curricular Integration Committee. For questions/ comments on: campus engagement efforts, departmental bulletin boards, library lesson guides, the library display case, film series, course syllabi questions, and student activities, contact chair Paula Pedersen and committee members: Laura Stolle-Schmidt, Danny Frank, Deborah Petersen-Perlman, Susana Pelayo-Woodward, Hli Vang, Liz Johnson, Lisa Rigoni Reeves, and Shelley Smith.

For information on the performance project, contact Joie Acheson Lee and committee members Stacy Crawford, Mary Cameron, Daniel Oyinloye, and Penny Cragun.

Susana Pelayo-Woodward is the publicity and media chair.

For questions/comments on departmental bulletin boards; posters; web sites; advertisements; newspaper and radio ads, contact Deborah Petersen-Perlman, Monte Gomke, and Mary Cameron.

Contact Deborah Petersen-Perlman for questions/ comments on grants; co-sponsorships; budgets; and contracts.


September 2011, Written by Cheryl Reitan,

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