Friday, February 22, 2013

‘Boxes and Walls’ provides insight into diversity challenges on campus

By Paul Schmitt
Cardinal Staff

Disabilities, sexuality, language barriers and economic disparity were all issues covered by “Boxes and Walls,” an event to raise awareness about diversity on Saint Mary’s University campus on Thursday, Feb. 7.

The event was described by Hall Director Charissa Jakusz as “a haunted house experience, but instead of encountering ghosts and goblins you’re faced with issues of oppression, stereotypes and diversity.” 

In the “haunted house” were four rooms, each of which contained an interactive experience for a different issue of diversity. For example, in the language room, students were spoken to in Spanish, instructed to study posters on the wall (also in Spanish) and then tested on their knowledge of the information in order to simulate being an English as a Second Language student.

The issues covered were chosen based on a graduate course Jakusz took last spring along with fellow hall directors and Boxes and Walls organizers Nick Lauer and Eileen Honish. Jakusz said they collectively saw these issues on campus and wanted to touch on them.

Lauer said that the experience reiterates “the fact that we’re all at different spots; we’re all in different boats from moment to moment.” He said the event encourages students to be more sensitive to diversity and oppression by “taking a second and thinking about some of the interactions you have.”

SMU’s Office of Residence Life and the Wellness Center Planning began planning the event last spring.  It involved cooperation with resident assistants and faculty to facilitate discussion on possible topics to be covered as well as running the actual event.

“I think going in we didn’t know what to expect,” said Lauer. Around 100 students participated in the event along with 10 professional staff members and over 20 student volunteers. “We ran out of nametags and we had to do some interesting scrambling, but in good ways,” he said.

SMU sophomore Maya Booker was required to attend Boxes and Walls for a class. She said that the experience helped her realize “that we do have a diverse campus and that we all must come together to help one another succeed.”

Jakusz said there are plans to continue the program next spring. She encourages anyone with room ideas or a desire to volunteer to contact her.

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