Guest Opinion by Kotheid Nicoue
For The Daily Iowan
I was born in Togo, a country in West Africa, and raised in Moline, Ill. Coming to the University of Iowa was exciting for me because I thought my days of culture shock were behind me, but I was wrong.
“Diversity” isn’t a word people associate with a city in Iowa. Many are unaware of the number of diversity programs our university has to offer, and even more are unaware of how diversity affects them. This may be because of the lack of attention given to the UI’s multicultural organizations. We have more than 50 of these.
These groups are more than organizations; they are communities, families, and support systems. My own drive and curiosity to learn about new cultures has led me to explore several of these communities on campus, which ultimately led me to the position I serve now as diversity advocate for the UI Student Government.
During my sophomore year as a resident assistant in Burge Hall, I worked with my fellow RAs to plan a drag show for our residents. I even took the opportunity to participate in Bollywood dances, knowing that college would be one of the few places with opportunities to interact with other cultures.
Realizing I may have had misconceptions about groups such as the UI Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Allied Union, I knew it was important for me to make the effort and challenge myself to learn about this group. In my native country, Togo, and even in my own household, topics such as GLBT issues were never discussed. The initiative that I took to educate my residents about this group changed my perspectives on the community.
This is one of the many experiences I was able to have at the university because our campus is a very diverse community. We all need to step out of our comfort zones and not be afraid to try new things.
How do we expect to overcome cultural barriers if we are not willing to step out of our bubbles? We all have misconceptions about certain groups, and the only way we can accept and celebrate our differences is to be willing to learn and be inclusive. This is why, as a diversity advocate, I believe it’s important for our student organizations and leaders to have the opportunity to participate in diversity training. That takes many forms, but most importantly, it provides a forum for honest and safe conversations that address common stereotypes and misconceptions. These conversations are vital to creating an atmosphere in which we appreciate and respect each other’s differences.
My goal is to start a dialogue for our students so that they begin to reflect on diversity issues in our community and to understand the role they play in creating an inclusive community.
We are a member of a university that has the tools to educate ourselves, but it’s our job to take action. It’s important for us to acknowledge the diversity in our communities. If we don’t take an active role in our learning, we miss out on extraordinary experiences, friends, and memories.
Kotheid Nicoue is a UI student and diversity advocate for the UI Student Government.