WE BELONG TO EACH OTHER: DIVERSITY DAY DURING COVID
Diversity Day is a mainstay of the Regis Jesuit experience. Taking place in early March every year since 2006, it presents multiple opportunities for our community to engage with and learn about people and experiences that differ from their own. The 2020 conference, featuring Sr. Helen Prejean as the keynote speaker, was the last all-school event before the lockdown went into effect last spring. A year later and a continued need to work to keep our community safe, this year’s conference morphed to be virtual and offered three keynote sessions, plus the performances by our advanced choral groups and workshop sessions that have long been hallmarks of this day. D’Shawn Burkes ’21, who was part of the student committee that helped to shape this year’s Diversity Day Conference, reflects on that shift and the continued importance of this opportunity.
The Impact of Diversity Day By D’Shawn Burkes ‘21
Diversity Day is important here at Regis Jesuit. It allows the community to access a wide variety of different cultures. In the past, we’ve had almost any workshop you could think of: “Psychology of Tattoos” presented by Mr. Walsweer, “Hip Hop Album Study” by Mr. Mixon, Polynesian Dance and so many more. It is important for all our students to be exposed and informed about different cultures. Diversity Day gives the chance for students and faculty to share their backgrounds and ethnicity with others at the school. This year’s Diversity Day may have been even more important because of the worldwide issues we are currently facing. With respect to everything that has happened in the past year-plus, it was more important than ever to create a space to listen, discuss and begin to address the tension that has accumulated over the many events that have transpired during that time. We, as students, continue to need to be informed and educated on the different ways that race affects society in America.
Due to COVID-19, our 2021 Diversity Day was split into two parts—a tough task for those who helped plan and put everything together as technology can be challenging, even with many hours of preparation and practice. Via livestream on Microsoft Teams, the first part of Diversity Day took place on the regularly scheduled date during the school day, just as it would in non-COVID times. Students rotated through their class schedule where they watched three livestreamed keynote presentations and then were able to submit questions for a live Q&A session with the speakers.
The first keynote featured Drs. Cornel West and Robert George, two distinguished academics with different political viewpoints, sharing the importance of learning how to dialogue respectfully with those who don’t agree with you in a talk called Is Civil Discourse Dead? During the second session, Penny Nisson and Rudi Florian of the Mizel Museum here in Denver taught us about propaganda—how to recognize it and what the consequences of it can be—through a presentation of how propaganda was used to fuel anti-Semitism in Germany during the Holocaust. The final keynote featured Denver-based poet and dynamic speaker on race relations Theo Wilson speaking on Race & The Digital Divide.
The opportunity to ask questions directly of these keynote speakers and hear their responses was an unanticipated benefit of being virtual this year. I loved the feel of us, as students, having a live interview with the presenters where everyone was able to submit questions. We were able to engage more deeply with the presenters despite the screen between us. Breakout sessions between each presentation allowed students to discuss further and share insights and realizations about what they had heard.
The second part of Diversity Day took place during workshops held after classes throughout that same week. Held in a hybrid format with 20 in-person spots and an additional 40-60 people attending online, the workshops offered students additional opportunities to engage with diversity topics beyond what could have been offered within the confines of a single-day event, so increased participation. Spreading Diversity “Day” throughout the week allowed people to go when they were available and have more time to focus and reflect on those experiences.
For me personally, the Diversity Day speaker I found most striking was Theo Wilson in the third keynote. As soon as he started speaking, he captured everybody’s attention. I realized that I had a lot in common with him. We both grew up in similar areas of Park Hill and are both very passionate about using our voices to speak up against injustice. The more he spoke, the more his story hit home with me, as a young black man, because of our similar upbringings. The highlight of my Diversity Day was being able to introduce myself to him after his presentation to share how invested I was in what he’d shared and how important I felt it was for the rest of the school to hear his words as well. I saw myself and my experience reflected in and shared by him.
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