Undergraduates apply critical thinking, research to diversity issues
In classes across the University, undergraduate students are studying not just the traditional topics related to their disciplines, but also how attitudes toward disparate people or ways of thought shape our scholarship and our lives.
At the inaugural Undergraduate Symposium on Diversity: Opportunities and Challenges for the Inclusion of Diversity in Higher Education and Society, on Jan. 13, students presented their critical examination of a variety of topics.
The symposium featured 46 posters by about 170 students based on work in courses or with individual faculty mentors. It was organized by the Center for Undergraduate Research and Scholarship at the initiative of the provost’s office. An original glass award created by art faculty member Joel O’Dorisio will be presented in the near future to four students for best presentations.
“These students have conducted important research,” said Dr. Rodney Rogers, provost and senior vice president. “They have asked serious questions about critical topics and found some revealing connections. I also applaud the faculty for their mentorship and encouragement of the undergraduate researchers.”
“Being able to present a poster at such an event is a wonderful opportunity for undergraduate students to dive more deeply into a scholarly topic than they would be able to do as part of the normal class work,” said Dr. Cordula Mora, CURS director. “And, furthermore, it also challenges them to practice their presentation skills and enriches their thought processes when they are answering questions posed by symposium attendees viewing their poster.”
In projects on everything from sex trafficking to services for people with disabilities to gender-based attitudes toward government spending, the students’ presentations were well researched and sometimes surprising. View their abstracts online.
Biology major Katelyn Lang drew a connection first between the role played by high fructose corn syrup in obesity levels, and then to how those levels vary by economic stratum, showing how economic disparity contributes to poor nutrition and dangerous weight among poorer people. This is of particular interest to Lang, who plans to become an oral surgeon.
Video games are hugely popular worldwide, but what messages about identity do they deliver? BGSU Firelands student Jose Diaz, who studied communication with Dr. Raymond Schuck, examined the characters in video games. “Many people are tired of the way women, people of color, and LGBT people are portrayed in video games and want this to change,” he found. “Representation in this growing field is not only necessary for the medium’s survival, it is necessary for our society to view these people in a different light than just bit characters or the brunt of jokes.”
Darrico Harris, a student of Dr. Ewart Skinner, telecommunications, and a McNair Scholar majoring in psychology, examined “Factors Influencing the Decisions of Black Males to Attend College.” He interviewed 15 black men who are either in college, have attended college or do not plan to attend. “The results of this study can be used to innovate programs and initiatives to encourage black males to attend, persevere and graduate from college,” Harris said.
Some students looked at diversity through the lens of their own personal backgrounds or academic majors, or both. Dominique Seo, a history major from Chicago, examined the role of a celebrated theater in a historically black Chicago neighborhood both during and after desegregation.
Others looked farther afield. Landra Maschari, also a Firelands student of Schuck, researched an intercultural educational model used in Israel uniting Muslim, Jewish and Christian children.
In her opening remarks at the symposium, Dr. Susana Peña, director of the School of Cultural and Critical Studies, congratulated the participants on their courage in submitting their work to scrutiny and evaluation, especially, she said, “when our work intersects with our own cultural identity.”
“We’re in an interesting cultural moment,” Peña said, pointing out the dichotomies of this time when there is increasing diversity and acceptance of diversity, yet increasing hate and intolerance among some.
“We need more scholarship on diversity and more diverse scholars. We need you!” she told the students.
When we “open our eyes,” said keynote speaker Barbara Waddell, director of the Office of Equity and Diversity and Title IX coordinator, we can see that it is “thinking differently, from diverse perspectives, that prompts invention, stimulates discovery and encourages us to seek out new approaches to problems.”
However, we also will see that ingrained and even unconscious biases within others and ourselves hinder us from creating an environment without boundaries and limitations and prevent us from unlocking our potential and the potential of others.
She challenged participants to “do the hard work of looking inward first,” and to never underestimate their influence on others, for good or ill. She also encouraged students to apply the same research methods they used for their poster projects to addressing diversity issues and to expand their worldview. “Your experiences and your worldview will be so much larger. You will not be the same person you are today.”