Presentations to cover topics of representation at Arts & Sciences Student Diversity Summit

(From left to right) Ethan Brown, sophomore in marketing and leadership studies; RJ Salmen, sophomore in personal financial planning; Airianna O'Donohue, sophomore in English literature and political science and Vedant Kulkarni, senior in management information systems and mass communications. Unavailable at time of shooting: Joseph Pondillo, sophomore in political science. (Benjamin Voller | Collegian Media Group)

The Kansas State Arts and Sciences Ambassadors will host the Arts & Sciences Student Diversity Summit from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, April 8, in the Town Hall at Staley School of Leadership Studies, as well as over Zoom.

The summit consists of conversations about diversity, inclusion and belonging on K-State’s campus. After presentations on what it means to have an inclusive campus, the event will host a student panel to foster meaningful conversations.

The panel consists of Joseph Pondillo, sophomore in political science; Airianna O’Donohue, junior in English literature and political science; RJ Salmen, junior in personal financial planning and leadership studies; Ethan Brown, junior in marketing and leadership and Vedant Kulkarni, senior in management information systems, strategic communications and pre-law. Pondillo was not available at the time photos were taken.

“The goal of this event is to inform those attending about issues diverse people face and establish strong connections with our fellow Wildcats,” O’Donohue said.

Since joining campus, President Richard Linton has learned more about how organizations and events like Friday’s have helped students and faculty members create a more inclusive campus.

“I am incredibly grateful to the many individuals, committees and groups who have been engaged in this critically important work,” Linton said in the April 5, 2022, edition of K-State Today.

At the summit, attendees can hear and take part in conversations about experiences and concerns about diversity in a safe space. O’Donohue said she plans to create a safe environment through leading topics with an open mind and a willingness to educate those who might not be familiar with the topics.

“I think it’s important for me as a POC student on campus to educate those who are willing to work through some internal prejudice they may not be aware they hold, or even just to open their eyes to issues they may not be aware of,” O’Donohue said.

Presentations will cover topics of ableism, LGBTQIA+ representation in video games, what it is like being an international student in a non-STEM arts and science major as well as a vocal student leader and racial microaggression and their impacts on people of color at a predominantly white university, or PWI.

“By having this event, we are able to educate those who want to expand their social cognizance,” O’Donohue said.

Salmen has served as an executive member of the LGBTQ organizations at K-State, worked as the SGA DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) chair, gender collective and more. Salmen plans on using their knowledge and passion to talk about LGBTQ representation and gameplay in video games.

“We don’t really ever discuss it or understand its importance. It’s one thing for a queer person to see an individual in a TV show or on social media, but it’s an entirely different thing to play a character who is literally the same as you,” Salmen said. “The character’s identity reflects your own, so the meaning behind is exponentially more impactful. I want my passion for the subject to become the audience’s passion.”

Brown, the director of campus access in the student body president’s cabinet, also serves on the intercultural leadership council. Brown will share current topics of discussion in the disability community based on his life experiences and the understanding he has gained through others.

“The day before I was born, I had a stroke resulting in a lifelong diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy and a visual impairment. I cannot speak on behalf of everyone with a disability,” Brown said. “As a student leader promoting representation, I bring first-hand knowledge of having a disability and my experiences encountering both physical and virtual barriers.”

Attendees can ask questions after the presentation to have meaningful conversations that go further in-depth.

“I hope that no matter what kinds of questions they are, they ultimately increase understanding and open up pathways to bridge the gap between some of the societal others on campus and the rest of the student body,” O’Donohue said.

Brown said these presentations give a safe space for people to learn, talk and understand further from people who have experience in the topics.

“Sharing with new audiences decreases inadvertent ignorance and increases the number of allies and advocates,” Brown said. “If experiences are only shared internally, then advocacy becomes cyclical and the issues become forgotten.”

K-State announced in the April 5, 2022, edition of K-State Today that the university is launching the first university-wide diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging — or DEIB — strategic five-year plan: Our Lens, Our Focus, Our K-State.

“Our Lens, Our Focus, Our K-State is the culmination of work completed by faculty, staff and students on the President’s Commission on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging,” Linton said in the announcement. “This plan will serve as a guide as we work to realize transformative, sustainable institutional changes that lead to a more inclusive K-State.”

The plan also creates a new position — the vice president for diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (VPDEIB) — to help foster inclusivity in all aspects of university life.

Along with the hiring of a VP, diversity and multicultural student affairs will be reimagined as the Office of Student Belonging and Inclusion and will remain focused on student engagement and student communities.

“It is important to remember that diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging is the work of us all,” Linton said in the announcement. “The work is never done, and it will continue to evolve.”