The University of New Orleans has been named the winner of the Outstanding Diversity Achievement Award by the National Association for Campus Activities. The award recognizes the University’s Cultural Conversations Series, a monthly student-led program that seeks to spark meaningful, on-campus dialogue about issues of local, national and global concern.
Cultural Conversations began in 2012 in response to news about the controversial shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida, said LeeAnne Sipe, director of student involvement and leadership at UNO.
Student leaders involved with the Student Activities Council responded to the outcry by inviting their peers to discuss gun control, a topic that drew 50 to 60 people. The event was so successful, Sipe said, the SAC decided to make it an ongoing series.
“Our students wanted to talk about topics they weren’t able to discuss in the classroom,” Sipe said.
Other topics—selected and fleshed out by students who serve on the SAC—have since included rape culture, the history behind holidays such as Thanksgiving, domestic violence, cultural representation in popular media and more.
Typically, students share visual media clips from the news or elsewhere that represent various viewpoints on an issue. Then, they open up discussion, with Sipe in attendance to help moderate, if needed. Before the end of the event, students often agree to action items related to the topic. Following the rape culture conversation, for example, fraternity and sorority representatives agreed to ensure their members underwent sexual assault awareness and prevention strategies.
The National Association for Campus Activities has 900 member institutions, including UNO, and seeks to provide those in higher education with knowledge, ideas and resources for facilitating a vibrant campus life. The Outstanding Diversity Achievement Award is awarded annually to a school program that fosters meaningful relationships between diverse student populations, challenges stereotypical perceptions of diverse populations, helps students communication effectively with people of varied backgrounds and generates an awareness and appreciation of diverse cultures.
“It’s really validating,” Sipe said of the award. “I’ve been really proud of the students and how intentional they’ve had to be in planning and executing these conversations … This is a chance to have these conversations that are too frustrating to have on Facebook in a setting that is a safe space.”
The next Cultural Conversation will be held Feb. 15 and include a screening of the Academy Award-nominated film “Loving,” a 2016 feature about the story behind the 1967 U.S. Supreme Court decision that invalidated laws banning interracial marriage. The event starts at 5 p.m. in the University Center Grand Ballroom.