Tue. Jun 18th, 2024

On Sept. 27, the Sykes auditorium filled with students and faculty for a 9 a.m. presentation by Dr. Maura Cullen. Many audience members were still yawning and tightly clutching their coffees, but their eagerness to hear Cullen speak was apparent. The presentation, entitled “35 Things Well-Intended People Say That Widen the Diversity Gap,” was well advertised by its sponsors-a fact that contributed greatly to Cullen’s large Friday morning audience.
Cullen received her Doctorate degree in Social Justice and Diversity Education at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. She has taught countless colleges and organizations to embrace diversity throughout her 25 years as a speaker. Her highly-acclaimed book, “35 Dumb Things Well-Intended People Say: Surprising Things We Say That Widen The Diversity Gap,” formed the basis for her presentation to West Chester University.
Cullen wasted no time in getting her audience awake and energized. She began the presentation by challenging the audience. She asked people to get into pairs. One partner had to make a fist with both hands, and the other partner had to attempt to separate the fist. After most people spent their time viciously prying apart their partners’ hands with force, Cullen announced that there was a simple solution: just ask. One member of the audience had simply asked her partner to open her hands, rather than resorting to physical methods. Cullen used this demonstration as a metaphor for our everyday attempts at communication. “We make things harder than they need to be,” she explained. “The most efficient way to get what you want is to seek cooperation and ask.”
Cullen then spoke about how her principle applies to diversity. She noted that we “clump” with people who think and look like us because we believe these people are the ones who have the least chance of getting offended by the dumb things we say. And, according to Cullen, we say a lot of dumb things.
In order to break free from our clumps and reach out to other groups of people, we have to seek cooperation and ask questions. We have to admit that we do not always know everything. Most importantly, we have to admit that the things we say have unintended consequences.
Cullen dove into a shortened list of the “35 dumb things” from her book. Statements like “That’s so gay” or “that’s so retarded” are all too commonly used among young people today. However, Cullen reminds us that these statements are never meant to be compliments. Even if we say them without intending to do harm, we are sending a message that we do not respect the gay community and people with down-syndrome.
Similarly, the statement “Some of my best friends are…” (fill in the blank) is our attempt at trying to prove that we are diverse and understanding. However, it sends the message that we think we can relate to a whole group of people just because we know one person from that group. It denies the uniqueness of everyone as a human being.
Cullen kept the audience laughing throughout her presentation while still managing to get a serious point across: in order to promote diversity on campus and in our lives, we must think before we speak and take responsibility for our words.
To take a step in the right direction, WCU provided a flyer to attendees with many opportunities to learn about and embrace diversity on campus. Options include the following: scheduling a diversity 411 workshop by contacting Marcie Cohen at MC606396@wcupa.edu, becoming an LGBTQA Ally by signing up on the LGBTQA Services homepage, and becoming a mentor for the Office of Multicultural Affairs by contacting Querida Lugo at qlugo@wcupa.edu. The “WCU For All of Us” calendar on the Social Equity homepage also has a list of diversity events.
Molly Herbison is a third-year student majoring in English. She can be reached at MH757997@wcupa.edu.

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