Nationally recognized speaker, trainer and performer Elaine Penn spoke as part of the University of Indianapolis Diversity Lecture Series on Tuesday, April 11. Penn has held numerous university positions including director of special projects, chief fundraiser and executive producer of five award-winning television documentaries, director of campus recreation and assistant volleyball coach.
Penn’s lecture, “One Student, Many Stories,” was part of the Sexual Assault Awareness month events on campus, but sexual assault was not the topic of her lecture. Penn interwove stories from her life and the lives of others to examine how stereotypes diminish a person’s dignity, create divisions and lead to prejudice and intolerance. Penn also invited students to share their own experiences with diversity
in areas such as race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, LGBTQIA and gender by providing a three-question prompt on the monitor at the beginning of the event.
“I believe her stories are how a lot of people come to a realization that we are all the same,” said senior exercise science major Wendell Brown. “Sometimes it just takes some significant life event or in-depth self-reflection to truly understand the concept of race and diversity. It’s almost as if you need an [out of body] experience. Even when you were raised to treat every one equally, it is still a task that requires effort and is a lifelong learning process.”
Penn asked students to turn to each other and answer the following questions: What person has the greatest impact on your life and why? What is one of your greatest achievements? What is your dream? Senior secondary education and Spanish major Mizraim Lorenzo-Aguilar shared his experiences as a student speaker at the event.
“My dream since I was 16-years-old has been to become a teacher,” Lorenzo-Aguilar said. “I believe that a dream comes from a passion that we have, and my biggest passion is teaching. It is more than a rewarding profession, and it is more than [being] ‘just a teacher.’ I believe that a dream has the power to make someone happy and to affect change, and that’s what my dream is: to make an impact in the life of those students.”
Penn used her own personal testimonies to encourage students to take action in their own lives. She prompted them to help combat stereotypes among themselves and their peers, as well as to stand up to any kind of prejudice.
“Many times, when we hear people’s personal experiences, we only hear one side of the perspective, or like Elaine Penn’s idea, one story,” Lorenzo-Aguilar said. “Usually, that side is only the bad experiences or bad encounters where that person has been a victim, where they were put down because of a certain group they belong to…. I wanted to let people know that even when I belong to a minority group, I haven’t had bad experiences…. I like to see the good in people, and I like to believe that some of the comments or experiences I’ve encountered is because of the idea of not knowing, or only knowing one story.”