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IU event series asks students, faculty to discuss cultural differences



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Penn State director of diversity, equity and inclusion Abington Annesah Smith stands Feb. 4 in the Campus View Activity Room. Smith gave a presentation to IU students and faculty titled "Creating Change Across Difference." Shelby Anderson

IU faculty attended a presentation Tuesday at Campus View Apartments about the effects of microaggressions as part of a larger series for students and faculty on how cultural differences affect peoples’ experiences.

Aneesah Smith, director of diversity, equity and inclusion at Penn State Abington, kicked off Tuesday’s event with a presentation on understanding microaggressions and the power that comes with privilege.

Smith said that as a black lesbian woman, she has fears about places she and her wife travel outside of the U.S. She said they are considering traveling to Dubai, but it’s dangerous to be openly gay there.

“When I was growing up, I didn’t see people like me — people who are out and confident and living authentically,” Smith said.

The series, “Culture and the University,” was organized by Residential Programs and Services and is meant to educate people on how culture influences their university experience, according to the series' description. Tuesday’s event was the second of five. Students and faculty went to different sessions of the discussion throughout the day.

The next event in the series is “Perspectives on Sexual Assault” at noon Feb. 19 at the School of Education auditorium. A full schedule of events is available here

Smith defined privilege in her presentation as advantages that certain people are born with such as race, sexuality, mental health and socioeconomic status that make it easier to lead a traditionally successful life. Smith encouraged people to use their privilege to help others. 

Smith said people can’t control whether they are born with privilege, so they should take that power and use it to help those who are commonly left out, Smith said. 

Her presentation also focused on the different “isms” in today’s society such as sizeism, racism, classism and ableism. Ableism is less commonly talked about but is discrimination against someone’s physical disabilities, Smith said.

As the topics were being discussed, attendees shared their personal experiences with microaggressions and stereotypes.  

Lloyd Graham, assistant director of residential life, said the most important takeaway from the discussion was that everyone can use their individual privilege to make positive changes for other people.

“We all hold privilege in a way, shape or form,” Graham said.

Attendee Alison Sinadinos works at IU as an emergency management coordinator and is a part of the Speakers Bureau, which provides contact information for speakers to visit campuses and speak on a particular topic. Sinadinos talks to classes about identities within the LGBTQ community. She said using her voice in these classes is part of her privilege. 

Sinadinos said one of the struggles she has faced and has noticed students experiencing is microaggressions. One microagression she said she’s dealt with is people telling her she doesn’t look queer.

“People think it’s a compliment, but it's very much not,” Sinadinos said. “It's an invalidation of who you are.”

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