Northern Michigan University Hosts 12th UNITED Conference on Diversity

By BD Dipananda
Buddhistdoor Global | 2017-10-04 |
Lama Tsultrim Gyaltsen at the UNITED Conference. From miningjournal.netLama Tsultrim Gyaltsen at the UNITED Conference. From

The 12th Uniting Neighbors In The Experience of Diversity (UNITED) conference was held on 25–26 September at Northern Michigan University’s Multicultural Education and Resource Center (MERC) in Marquette, Michigan, the United States. The event included presentations, exhibits, concerts, and films covering various topics, such as “Woman Trapped inside a Woman’s Body,” and “American Intellectual Identity and the Crisis of Identity Politics.”

“The whole point of UNITED is to look at diversity through the broadest scope that’s possible out there because diversity is about everything,” said Shirley Brozzo, associate director of MERC. “This is a time of celebration. We are all different. We are all diverse people. You are just as similar and as different from the person standing next to you. We’re trying to break down a lot of those barriers.” (abc 10 News)

On the first day of the event, the three speakers—Joe Grimm, Robin Jones, and Chris Mosier—presented papers titled “Breaking Down Biases One Question at a Time,” “Applying Concepts of University Design to Ensure Accessibility,” and “Creating Social Change,” respectively. Grimm, who teaches at Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, discussed how one can ask questions about “others,” for instance from the Muslim or black communities and different cultural groups: “The first thing is, get people over their natural nervousness about asking people questions that might hurt them,” said Grimm, adding that “The other one is some people don't want to ask questions because they don't want to seem dumb.” (Upper Michigan Source) 

On the following day, Stacy Alaimo, Kellie Raffaelli, Malea Powell, Lama Tsultrim Gyaltsen, and Alison Grillo presented papers titled “Biodiversity in the Depths: Science, Aesthetics and the Creatures of the Abyss,” “Creating an Inclusive Campus for LGBTQA+ Students,” “Making American Indian Rhetorics,” “Interconnected,” and “Woman Trapped Inside a Woman’s Body.”

In his speech on interconnectedness, based on the book Interconnected: Embracing Life in our Global Society by His Holiness the Karmapa, Lama Tsultrim Gyaltsen, a Buddhist monk born in Marquette who has been practicing Tibetan Buddhism for more than 30 years at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra in Woodstock, New York, described how “thinking is flawed and how realignment with the interconnectedness and interdependence with everything can bring real happiness into our lives.” (NMU Events)

Even though we see ourselves as separate, a key feature of “difference” or “diversity,” Gyaltsen mentioned that science has shown that we are not as unconnected or separated as we think: “We live in a very dynamic world, down to the molecular atomic level. Everything is constantly changing, everything. We are different people than we were two nanoseconds ago. Everything is constantly in a state of flux . . . and actually there are no distinct boundaries between anything.” (The Mining Journal)

Diversity should not be mistaken for real difference, Gyaltsen continued. Although we have different genders, different occupations, different ethnicities, we are still fundamentally the same. Like waves on the water disappearing into the vast sea, all humans come from and will return to the same sea of consciousness: “Our equality is our humanness and our dependence on the earth. Everybody shares the wish to be happy, the wish to avoid suffering, and everybody shares completely the dependence on the Earth. . . . Yet, because we all have had very different experiences since we were born, we’re very different people . . . [and] we can all learn from each other.” (The Mining Journal)

“The talk itself added perspective on how to cultivate empathy and gratitude, which we can never have enough of,” said Stephanie Moore, a second-year graduate student at NMU, who said she attended the talk because the Buddhist practice of compassion inspires her. (The Mining Journal)

“We do think of ourselves as separate, different and apart, and yet we’re all rotating on this little blue marble,” said Susan Uballe, another participant. “If we don’t share and work together, it’s likely there will be negative consequences for that.” (The Mining Journal)

The conference organizers emphasized, how this year’s conference truly addressed topics such as avoiding biases, universal design, identity politics, and more.

See more

Buddhist monk speaks at UNITED conference (The Mining Journal)
NMU UNITED Conference speaks on moving past cultural bias (Upper Michigans Source)
UNITED Conference returns to NMU next week (abc 10 News)
Jewish American community discussed at the UNITED Conference (Upper Michigans Source)
NMU Hosts UNITED Conference (NMU Events)

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