Dr. Maura Cullen speaks on diversity

Bria Hilliard

Asst. Features Editor

Dr. Maura Cullen and students after her presentation. Photo by Issatou Fall
Dr. Maura Cullen and students after her presentation.
Photo by Issatou Fall

Diversity has become a part of our everyday lives. Every day that we have on this planet, we have the opportunity to meet new people, learn about new cultures or even adapt to new lifestyles.

Utica College recently invited a nationally recognized expert on social justice and diversity education, Dr. Maura Cullen, to speak to students about becoming more aware of the diversity that surrounds them. Dr. Cullen has spoken at over 500 colleges and universities and is also the author of the popular book “35 Dumb Things Well-Intended People Say: Surprising Things We Say That Widen the Diversity Gap”.

Dean of students Bob Perkins, director of Student Activities Joe Gutowski and Dean for Diversity and Student Development Alane Varga thought this event would be a great way to kick off the 2015-2016 school year. The event was put in place to give students a new way of viewing diversity and enlightening them on ways to embrace it.

“Maura’s style of being straightforward, providing complex information in an accessible way that engaged the audience, being laid back but informal, and mixing humor with very real and sometimes intense moments seemed to be a good fit for UC,” Varga said.

In her lecture, Dr. Cullen used the make-up of a car to describe how we break down areas of diversity. She used associations such as color vs. race, money vs. class, model vs. gender, foreign vs. domestic, mileage/year vs. age, performance vs. ability and finally image vs. sexual orientation to describe the different backgrounds each student can have.

For the beginning of the lecture, Dr. Cullen jumped right into the discussion that the color of a person’s skin can determine how they are seen in society and where they are placed in society. She pointed out the awkwardness that the discussion of race can come with, putting emphasis on the fact that it is important for people to educate themselves on these matters to stop the harm being done by stereotyping. Dr. Cullen spoke about the importance of becoming aware of who we are, not by race but by ethnicity as well as recognize others in the same way.

Dr. Cullen also touched on gender equality stating that people who are transgender, gender nonconforming, etc. often face challenges that people who identify as men or women may not recognize. The topic brought up the issue of men and women bathrooms becoming a dangerous place for men who identify as women and women who identify as men. Dr. Cullen asked the audience to consider the idea of removing men and women bathrooms signs and just using a “restroom” sign.

“When you make it more accessible for some, you typically make it more accessible for all,” Dr. Cullen said.

In another part of her lecture, Dr. Cullen spoke on the troubles that people with disabilities have to face being looked upon as having the need to be dependent on others due to limitations. Dr. Cullen pointed out to the audience that we are no different because even people without disabilities have limitations that require them to ask for help. Dr. Cullen also reminded the audience not to take their abilities for granted as that could change within an instant.

Dr. Cullen delivered a very powerful lecture to the students who attended the event, giving them something to think about when they left the auditorium.

“Acts of kindness or cruelty makes a huge impact on peoples’ lives,” Dr. Cullen said. “We all need to be more mindful. There are people out there who are hanging on by their fingertips and our little effect, whether it’s kindness or cruelty sometimes can be a defining moment. So why wouldn’t you try to be kind? Not only do we see our lives differently but others see us differently.”

This event was brought to this campus on Sept. 7 through the Campus Theme Committee, Diversity Committee, Student Senate, and the offices of First Year Programs, Student Activities, Student Affairs, and Student Success