Filing onto Hill Field for a barbecue on a sunny afternoon, scores of freshmen separate into smaller groups, many segregated by race or gender. It is not an uncommon scene at the University, whose administration has tried to combat segregation with programs such as diversity education seminars. But the scene was particularly striking on Monday the students had just left the diversity education seminars. Although students voiced overwhelming support for the sessions, their actions showed that achieving diversity awareness will take more than one Labor Day session. But students said the programs are a first step. "The program was very worthwhile," College Freshman Paul Rozelle said Monday. "I learned a lot more of how to communicate with different people, and that people really could be open-minded about differences." Students also said that while the discussions brought out many opposing viewpoints and emotions, they felt comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas with the facilitators and members in the group. But some freshmen said they did not foresee a change in the way they would deal with situations involving harassment or in their relationships with diverse groups of people. Student Life Director Francine Walker said last night that the students' self-separation is not surprising since new students tend to "go with those with whom [they] feel most comfortable." The session, which focused on racial, gender, religious and sexual orientation differences on campus, was the first in a series of diversity awareness programs scheduled for freshmen throughout the year. The programs were initiated last fall after extensive debate. Some professors criticized the programs as values indoctrination, while some minority leaders did not support them because attendance was not required. Approximately three-quarters of last year's freshman class attended the programs. Assistant Student Life Programs Director Robert Schoenberg said approximately 2000 of the 2250 freshmen attended this year's first session. Some organizers said they felt this year's program was even better than last year's, both logistically and in content. And College Junior Seth Wiesen, a facilitator of a small group session, said he was very pleased with his group's insights and participation. "I had a very positive feeling about the people saying their true feelings and listening a lot," he said Monday. In response to student complaints that last year's eight-hour program was too long, Monday's session was shortened to a half day, starting with a keynote address by renowned author and activist Maya Angelou. Angelou encouraged students "to take on responsibilities which for 18 years no one ever told you about," stressing the need for someone to "work out the problems of racism and sexism." Angelou urged the students to "put this idea [of diversity] in your perception." Several students and organizers said later that the author's emotional address was the most memorable part of the day.Comments powered by Disqus
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.