Networking reception celebrates newly-formed affinity groups

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Networking reception celebrates newly-formed affinity groups

CW / Hannah Saad

CW / Hannah Saad

CW / Hannah Saad

CW / Hannah Saad

Gerardo Aguilera | @jerry21aguilera, Contributing Writer

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With Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Week off to a start, students and faculty gathered in the Ferguson Center Great Hall for the second of four student government-sponsored programs.

UA President Stuart Bell opened Tuesday night’s DEI Networking Reception with remarks on how and why campus groups are so important for students as they navigate college. 

“We really want the richest opportunities available while you are on campus,” Bell said. “We put so many investments into different programs here at the University. The idea is that we need to come together so we can achieve different ways to use these resources.”

Before handing the mic over to guests, representatives from the Student Government Association (SGA) took time to present Bell with a plaque. The plaque announced a resolution“to confine SGA’s support the development and creation of all the affinity groups on campus.” 

For its first-ever networking reception, the SGA invited a plethora of organizations to speak and connect with one another, including students and faculty who belong to older and newly formed affinity groups. These affinity organizations are comprised of faculty and staff belonging to minority groups on campus.

“I loved having students and faculty here,” said Joiner, the SGA vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion, noting that his highlight of the night was seeing members of the newly formed Latinx Staff Association exchange handshakes and advice with members of the Hispanic Student Association. “Letting students know that there is an opportunity for them to bridge the gap between people, faculty – it brightened my day.”

The reception was a part of DEI week, a week of programming put on by the SGA and the UA Office for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion every year, this was the first year they had the networking event. Beginning this Monday, programs will start with a lecture from Yusef Salaam, a member of the Exonerated Five, and will end with a fun-filled karaoke night in partnership with the International Student Association.

Lauren Gilonske, who works alongside Demarcus Joiner in the SGA’s DEI cabinet as the  director of women and gender resources, said the turnout at the reception was “momentous.” The reception was an open invitation, and as group members spoke, several emphasized that the event was for students, faculty and staff to share resources and emphasize that there is diversity on campus. 

Rona Donahoe, president of the UA Faculty Senate, spoke about the importance of everyone being able to get involved and be unified as a campus.

“We have been actively supporting students in any way that we can and as well as any other groups across campus,” Donahoe said, referencing a DEI standing committee on the Faculty Senate and the creation of a new task force to “transform campus culture.”

Last October, the Faculty Senate increased the amount of faculty on the DEI committee to 14, matching membership in the research and service committee and the academic affairs committee. Proposed in September, the Task Force to Transform Campus Culture began meeting before Thanksgiving and is currently finalizing a timeline for spring goals and crafting policy statements on diversity, inclusion, expression of speech, academic freedom, and social media. 

The Faculty Senate has also created the Latinx Staff Association and the Jewish Faculty Association, and they are working to create affinity groups for Asian, disabled and veteran faculty.

Michael Innis-Jimenez, a professor of American studies who attended the reception, is the first president of the Latino/a Staff Association, which will have its first meeting next month. 

“I would like to send an invitation out to everyone,” Innis-Jimenez said. “We are here to help the colleges and departments and diversity committees help however we can to diversify campus.”