The first ever student-run conference at the University of Rhode Island, Diversifying Individuals Via Education (D.I.V.E.), was held on Saturday with the goal of cultivating the tools and knowledge of  students to have informed conversation on minority inclusion and cultural competence.

Run by the Multicultural Unity and Student Involvement Council (M.U.S.I.C.), the event welcomed 250 attendees to 21 interactive workshops. These attendees included students from Providence College, Rhode Island College, RISD, Bridgewater State and Brandeis University.

“It’s easy when we’re having this type of dialogue to condemn people for their ignorance,” said Kevin Pajaro, a member of the D.I.V.E committee. “The conference serves as a platform to provide a teaching moment for everyone, while also feeling adequately equipped with the knowledge and vocabulary to engage in these conversations through a lens of understanding difference.”

DIVE CH“We really wanted to spread awareness of things we don’t usually talk about,” said President of M.U.S.I.C. Zulmy Cortez.

Cortez said the goal of the conference was to let students have these sometimes difficult race- and minority-based conversations in a safe setting as a part of their education, since these topics often are not discussed in the real world.

Although Pajaro and Cortez felt the conference was largely successful at its mission, proof that this education needs to take place was evident when the Providence Journal covered the event that day. Comments left on the online version of the article covering the event illustrated some of the public’s beliefs that having these conferences and conversations are continuing the victimization of minorities.

“You can have a conference about how to find a job, but that isn’t going to teach you how to think critically about experiences like being one of the few colored people in the workplace,” said Pajaro rebutting such comments.

Billy Bowden, a member of URI Big Thinkers said,  “We are committed to awakening those who do not see that this is not a post racial society, those who believe that because we have a handful of leaders from underrepresented groups, that we must not be a racist, sexist and homophobic society.”

Bowden presented along with Kyle Nacci and Mark Canny on the effects of racial bias in education.

“D.I.V.E. should be something that URI does year-after-year to effectively convey our message that we are on a mission to liberate people who have been misrepresented and underrepresented,” said Bowden. “It is all about establishing community and understanding after years of misunderstanding.”