Embracing its reputation as a multicultural institution, the University of Indianapolis took steps toward creating a more inclusive campus community on Friday, March 25, by hosting a Cross-Pollination Conference designed to increase awareness and encourage discussions of topics relevant to diversity.
According to Gerburg Garmann, professor of Global Languages and Cross Cultural Studies and assistant dean of Interdisciplinary Studies and Service Learning, the event was comprised of 60 presentations along with 243 faculty, students and staff, not including guests or unregistered attendees.
The all-day event took place in the Schwitzer Student Center and, following morning sessions, featured a keynote address during lunch by President of the Association for Interdisciplinary Studies of the United States James Welch IV.
Welch explained that the metaphor of cross-pollination is not meant to imply that tolerance is easy, but rather to reflect the importance of finding common ground among those of different backgrounds.
“When it comes to the metaphor of pollination, you have happy bees and happy flowers and blissful symbiosis, trading nectar for pollination and making honey to feed the Pooh bears,” Welch said. “And this is all very nice, and it seems to imply that cooperation is built into the fabric of nature itself, and indeed it is. However, if it were easy, we would have done it by now, and we certainly wouldn’t need a conference to sit around talking about it. So what I intend to do … is to look at what are the social, psychological, biological mechanisms of this conflict. Not because I think they are OK, not because I think they are an excuse for us not to get along with each other, but because we have to understand these mechanisms in order to accommodate them and more skillfully create common ground.”
Following Welch’s presentation, afternoon sessions began. Divided into topic streams, the sessions focused on a variety of issues that concern diversity in today’s society. According to the UIndy website, Stream A focused on experiencing diversity, Stream B on building and maintaining diversity, Stream C on the best interdisciplinary practices of course design on diversity issues. Stream D examined the power of language in shaping social change, Stream E performing diversity, Stream F researching and assessing diversity, and Stream G diversity in post-election United States.
Senior international relations major Katie Budd said that she felt the topics of the day were a necessary measure taken by the university to increase understanding of other cultures.
“I think it’s very important because it gives you different perspectives,” Budd said. “This whole day is about bringing different topics in diversity to the forefront of the conversation.”
Senior chemistry major Brittaney Kidwell, who participated in a presentation about water and air quality, said that she was most excited to discuss a topic that matters to her alongside her professors and fellow students.
“Being able to share what we’ve done and the connections we’ve made [is what we are most excited about],” Kidwell said. “It’s important, especially now, because a lot of times there is that whole ‘not in my backyard’ notion where minority or low-income areas end up with a lot of this pollution, and it’s important to conduct studies and make a difference to those people.”
The day concluded with a dinner in the Health Pavilion featuring a variety of ethnic foods from the South Side and closing remarks by President Robert Manuel.
Garmann said she hopes that the conference encourages students, faculty and guests to consider how they can become more welcoming of diversity in their own lives and within the campus community.
“[I hope attendees gain] a better understanding of diversity, more sensitivity as to what kind of diversity issues are happening nationwide [and] globally. But of course, in the end, it comes down to our campus,” Garmann said. “What can we do? How can we change things one small step at a time? Who decides who takes these small steps at a time? Is it a collaborative enterprise from the ground up, such as a collaboration between faculty, students and administrators? Who sets the tone? Who makes sure that the conference is not a nice, one-time event, and then we all go back to what we have all been doing before?”