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Students share their experiences with diversity at Here is my CMU

Credit: Zichen Liu/ Credit: Zichen Liu/ Credit: Zichen Liu/ Credit: Zichen Liu/

On the evening of Nov. 10 in McConomy Auditorium, Carnegie Mellon students gathered for Here is My CMU, a student-organized event intended to discuss and enhance Carnegie Mellon’s diverse community. Six undergraduate students and Associate Head of School of Drama Dick Block shared their perspectives, experiences, and thoughts on diversity here.

Olivia Roy, a senior mechanical engineering major, organized the event with the help of her advisors and other active members of the community. “I have been thinking about this [event] since my sophomore year,” said Roy, in an interview with The Tartan. In the spring of her sophomore year, Roy participated in the spring break exchange to CMU Qatar through the IMPAQT program. She was moved and inspired by Diversity Diaries, an event that allowed members of the Qatar campus community to come together and share their unique experiences.

With the help of her advisors and supporters around her, she applied for and received a ProSEED grant — a university-wide grant program to encourage new interdisciplinary ideas — which she eventually used to organize Here is My CMU. “I believe very strongly in the power of storytelling,” said Roy, “and all the events happening on campus prompted me to do this.” She talked to and interviewed students around the university in the fall to speak at the event and received a lot of support from different communities.

Rob Stephens, a senior international relations and politics major, shared his early experience with institutional racism. He pointed out the misconception that diversity comes from racial minorities and discussed how this perception is flawed and harmful.

Griffin Tang, a first-year in Dietrich College, spoke about his first few months of experience with the Carnegie Mellon culture. Born and raised in New York City, Tang felt that the people at Carnegie Mellon had, comparatively, more patience and respect for each other.

Sandra Ho, a sophomore biology major and a member of the Carnegie Mellon Varsity Swimming and Diving Team, shared her struggles with racism as a foreign athlete at an elite boarding school before coming to Carnegie Mellon. She was condemned for “being too Asian” and “trying too hard to please the coaches” at swimming practices, bringing up the often overlooked topic of discrimination against Asians. In her speech, she also thanked her friends and teammates at Carnegie Mellon who have helped her to restore her mental and physical health.

Nathan Willis, a senior decision science major, shared his experience growing up at a predominantly white school and interacting with a variety of cultures. “Diversity is not to bridge the differences,” Willis said, “but rather to integrate them.”

Alex Cerny, a senior chemical engineering major, spoke about her struggles as a student coming from a lower financial background and the difficulty of making friends with “students from the other end of the financial spectrum.”

Ashwini Ganpule, a junior mechanical engineering major, talked about her fear of the Donald Trump presidency and her experience with sexual harassment and discrimination at her workplace during an internship.

The speeches by these students shone a much-needed light on the acceptance of the Carnegie Mellon community. Although Roy claimed that it was not intentional to schedule this event around the election, Here is My CMU was a timely event that encouraged students to cherish individual identities and uniqueness at a time when many beliefs are challenged. Such an event encourages conversations between different groups of students and allows students to share their different values.