College diversity official highlights importance, need of such positions on campus

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MECHANICSBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — One week after culturally-insensitive costumes were worn by several Franklin & Marshall College students, a diversity official at another Midstate college is highlighting both the need and importance of diversity programs on college campuses.

Those costumes led to days of protests and rallies organized by minority students at F&M who told us then they felt their school wasn’t doing enough to foster diversity and racial awareness on campus.

Dr. Todd Allen, provost of Diversity Affairs at Messiah College, said having an appointed diversity official is vital to a college community.

“They’re only teachable moments if you’re willing to learn,” Allen said. “Race is one of those conversations that we would rather not have. We would rather have quick fixes. We tell people to get over it.”

That “get over it” phrase was used a lot in social media comments referencing our story about those student costumes.

But Allen said Friday that “getting over” the mocking of one’s heritage or culture isn’t that easy.

“Oftentimes, you know when someone says that line to me about ‘Well, why don’t you just toughen up or get over it?’ My response is what’s the it we need to get over?” Allen asked.

He says a commitment to diversity takes everyone, not just college leaders.

“If we’re going to have any kind of meaningful, lasting sense of community on our campuses, we’ve got to begin to have the tough conversations,” Allen said.

That starts, he said, with so-called teachable moments like those costumes, and admitting that more must be done.

“Hiring somebody is the easy part, the difficult part is then leaning in, committing the resources and committing the time,” Allen said.

After pictures of the costumes surfaced, F&M announced in a letter emailed to students that they would be hiring a director of diversity in the spring, and also implement something called a bias response recovery system on campus.

Allen believes these issues of racism and cultural insensitivity will continue until someone’s history is not only known but understood and appreciated.

“It’s not a one-time conversation or a one-time workshop, or we hire someone and then now we’ve solved it,” Allen said.

The involved F&M students, several of whom were athletes, have since apologized and expressed remorse for the costumes.

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