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Tracking COVID-19 at UCLA

Discussions on race and equity could foster a more understanding, diverse community

Local government-led initiatives like embRACE LA should inspire UCLA to conduct and promote campus events to openly have conversations about issues of diversity, equity and inclusion.(Daily Bruin file photo)

By Deepto Mizan

Oct. 15, 2019 11:12 p.m.

From race to culture and creed, there are so many ways to describe our identities, and it can easily feel as if who we are boils down to a laundry list of terms at UCLA.

But it will take more than a series of posters and class requirements in order to truly celebrate each other.

It could improve, however, with something as simple as meeting and talking with peers.

It’s no secret that UCLA has more than a few shortcomings when it comes to diversity. Previous incidents such as disruptions of club meetings, frat parties that included people wearing blackface and more in the past half-decade alone show a lack of communication across the board. And it appears for the Bruins’ centennial, UCLA has slapped a Band-Aid on the problem – providing diversity posters and vague initiatives for its celebration.

On the city front, a new program is aiming to tackle the disconnect involving race and equity with a personal approach. embRACE LA, a program founded by the Los Angeles City Council, aims to bridge the gap between Angelenos through guided discussion and an opportunity to meet one another. Over 150 of these conversations have already been held in LA, with three discussions set to take place right on UCLA’s campus in the coming weeks.

Students have every right to expect initiatives like these on campus – which makes it all the more concerning that the LACC seems to prioritize these discussions at UCLA more than the university does itself. As Bruins, we cannot expect ambivalent university initiatives and isolated student groups to suddenly achieve equity and inclusion. Bruins must meet each other at the same table and hear each other’s voices. And while embRACE LA is not perfect, UCLA needs to provide more opportunities like it to foster a truly diverse and equitable community – whether those opportunities be discussions, public forums or events that integrate multiple cultural clubs.

Herb Wesson, president of the LACC, said the program is fundamentally important to college campuses.

“Having these discussions across campus are the heart and soul of working toward equality and should have an integral role in student life at UCLA,” Wesson said.

Let’s be clear – a quick dinner and light conversation won’t fix the university’s issues. But it’s a place to start.

Michael Skiles, president of the North Westwood Neighborhood Council and UCLA graduate, said the event would help coordinate discussion between the multitude of student groups on campus.

“If you’re part of a certain major or club, you feel like you’re part of a specific community, but that’s not making you a part of the UCLA community,” Skiles said. “The event attempts to make a greater sense of community with others, and this program has been coming out with positive reception.”

UCLA has tried to codify a sense of community before – in the form of diversity requirements.

But once basic respect and the desire to understand other walks of life are viewed as an academic prerequisite, these experiences become a mere footnote.

The embRACE LA program takes UCLA’s previous attempts a step forward, adding ways to guide discussion when inevitable emotions and grievances arise. The program recommends finding common ground between statements and giving appropriate time to each person, which help open a comfortable space for people to express themselves and process their experiences.

It’s a step in the right direction – one that UCLA could implement in a multitude of ways.

Potential solutions could include joint discussion nights between the numerous cultural groups on campus, cultural history nights to understand significant aspects of different cultures and student group discussion sections where a smaller group of people can come together in conversation.

But racial equality and understanding is also not a problem that can only be solved by a few dinners or sit-downs. It’s a long process with many difficult steps.

Often in attempting to understand one another, a lack of context and foundation can create issues. One recent example is the conflict between the Students for Justice in Palestine and both Bruins For Israel and Students Supporting Israel – and UCLA’s lackluster response. Instead of providing an avenue for common ground, it became a muddled discussion of university policy issues. Nothing came out of the discussion, with no resolution or policy changes regarding free speech. Of course, for some situations, this topic is harder to discuss than others.

But it doesn’t mean staying silent.

UCLA boasts numerous cultural clubs on campus, each of which focuses on many unique issues and challenges that need to be addressed. But these shouldn’t be isolated conversations about hardship – rather, the university should provide a platform to find common ground, so that these clubs can stand in solidarity with one another.

James Brown, a second-year microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics student, worries that these discussions can easily become an echo chamber without direction.

“I think it’s good that people are discussing their experiences, but it’s not exactly clear what’s going to be accomplished,” Brown said.

This is also not to say that UCLA hasn’t tried opening up the discussion on equity before – the UCLA Alumni Association hosts events of a similar nature. But while its format may be similar, these events don’t tackle the hard questions of diversity – and those conversations are exactly what UCLA is lacking. It’s true – embRACE LA and discussion forums like it might be insufficient to create change in the same way legislation or education can. But having a foundation where people are able to have these guided conversations can authentically determine the way the university is led.

embRACE LA deserves a seat at UCLA’s table.

Because without seeing and knowing each other, we are nothing more than statistics and words on a page.

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Deepto Mizan | Opinion columnist
Mizan is an Opinion columnist.
Mizan is an Opinion columnist.
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