Written By Maya Geving, Photo By Maya Geving
ST. CLOUD- On Saturday St. Cloud State University held its 15. annual Power in Diversity Leadership Conference. This year’s theme was ‘Inclusive Innovation’.
The conference, which took place between Jan. 25 and Jan. 27, was created to help students build connections and develop important skills within the realms of activism, social work, community organization, and self-care. It consisted of keynote speakers, workshops, and an internship fair. It also served as a space for students to express themselves and show off their cultural garments.
Angie Witte, Associate Director of Multicultural Student Services and one of the organizers of the conference, said it was inspired by the vast amount of cultural diversity on SCSU’s campus. The diversity conference is used as a platform to honor these diverse students and inspire leadership among them.
“We chose the theme ‘Inclusive Innovation’ this year because we wanted to focus on the professional influence of diversity and how inclusivity can drive the innovation of an organization,” she said.
Students could also obtain a digital leadership badge by partaking in the conference workshops. This year’s badge is called the Interpersonal EQ, which is focused on demonstrating emotional maturity within decision-making and team building.
According to Valentina Carvajal, one of the conference hosts, conferences like this offer many benefits for students, especially those from international backgrounds.
“You can seek a lot of diversity here. We have people from all over the world and it’s fantastic because you get to connect with so many different cultures and people,” she said.
Shahzad Ahmad, Associate Vice President of the Center of International Studies at St. Cloud State, said it’s SCSU’s responsibility as an educational institution to bring students together through conferences of this nature. That way, we can understand current and historical issues that diverse students face and learn from them so that we can avoid making the same mistakes in the future.
He also mentioned how finding keynote speakers for these conferences is about “finding someone who can provide the knowledge, motivate and inspire people, but more importantly relate to the students.”
Saturday’s keynote speakers were SCSU alum and president of real estate firm Equitable Partners Marvin Lyman and his daughter Madison Lyman. Their speech titled “Beyond Diversity Equity and Inclusion: Where Do We Go From Here?”, explored racial inequities such as the wealth gap between black and white households and how the expansion of the U.S highway system had devastating impacts on Black communities and businesses.
According to Marvin Lyman, “If we want to get rid of racism, we need to understand the original reasons for racism. Once you attack the core of racism, you attack racism altogether.”
Marvin Lyman has been involved in activism for most of his life, including during his time at St. Cloud State. He said his parents were the ones who inspired him to speak up and fight against oppression and help other people in his community.
“It’s about loving yourself and loving other people so much that you don’t get comfortable being oppressed,” he said.
Through his job in real estate development, he works to build businesses and change lives by understanding the needs of communities. Examples of these needs are access to housing, healthcare, childcare, or food.
“My attack against racism every day is making sure that we help and work with those communities but also give them an opportunity to benefit and participate in the work that’s being done,” he said.
Marvin Lyman also emphasized the importance of younger people getting involved in fighting against racism and oppression.
“My greatest example is my daughter working on this journey,” he said.
At only 17 years old, Madison Lyman is accomplishing a ton within the realm of advocacy and fighting against racism. She organized a walkout at her High School due to racist incidents, founded an organization at her school to bring Black students together, works on community programming for the Kansas City Defenders, and writes for two newspapers. She said she wants to study anthropology and urban studies in college.
“I think it’s so important to look at how cities in the United States were built and how U.S infrastructure can target and disenfranchise specific communities. I want to reconstruct cities in a way that nurtures communities,” she said.
In the speech, Madison Lyman underscored the importance of educating yourself on racism and not believing everything you read in history books.
“You have to acknowledge history and see how things are interconnected,” she said.
Attendees Jessica Marquez, Johana Marquez, and Claudia Depaz said one of their main reasons for coming to the conference was to listen to the keynote speakers. They also emphasized the importance of being exposed to diversity in a conference setting.
“It helps open people’s minds to other people’s cultures and perspectives,” said Jessica Marquez.
Depaz agreed saying “As time goes on I feel like we forget to be more accepting of each other. It’s important to have moments like this where we look at each other’s cultures and ethnicities and really explore them.”