When I started work at UM eight years ago, I stopped by a colleague’s office on my first day. She told me, “Tomorrow there’s a meeting for the Day of Dialogue planning committee, and I told them you’d come.” I had been hired as the Ethnic Studies Librarian and Multicultural Coordinator and that Day of Dialogue meeting was my first official campus engagement.
Right away I could tell that this was a group of people that I wanted to stay involved with. There was so much passion and commitment around that table – for diversity, for students, and for continuously improving the culture of the university. I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to diversity activities at UM.
Through the years the Day of Dialogue has evolved into DiverseU. I’ve been on the committee ever since, chairing subcommittees and the planning committee itself at one point. The day has expanded, and the focus has also evolved a bit, to broaden the definition of diversity and to recognize that civil discourse is an essential part of understanding each other and the world.
Every year, DiverseU teaches me something new. I’ve been to some incredible, intelligent, uncomfortable, and unforgettable sessions. I’ve seen Chuck D talk about voting, learned about white privilege, heard students talk about their experiences on campus and in the community, listened to what it is like to live HIV positive in Montana, and been touched, challenged, and enlightened along the way.
What keeps me coming back, though, year after year, is the incredible people on the DiverseU planning committee. I can’t think of another campus committee that engages students, faculty, staff, and administrators all around one table, all on equal footing, all trying to make UM a better place for everyone. The people I get to work with on this committee are some of the smartest, most dedicated people you’ll find at UM. I’ve learned from all of them – and particularly from the student coordinators I’ve known over the years. They are the heart of the planning committee and have consistently planned this symposium with grace, intelligence, and leadership skills that impress me every year. DiverseU committee members have become my mentors, collaborators, and some of my dearest friends.
In eight years here, I still enjoy walking into a DiverseU committee meeting. I get to sit down with people I admire and respect. I get to learn from their passion, knowledge, and experiences. And I get to join them in their optimism that, when students, faculty, staff, and administrators put their hearts and minds into it, we can make this campus a place that welcomes and respects all people.
Julie Biando Edwards, Associate Professor, Mansfield Library