Karolina Rivas/ Nevada Sagebrush

Students at the University of Nevada, Reno, will have the chance to participate in panel discussions about college diversity and inclusion at the 2018 Northern Nevada Diversity Summit on Thursday, April 12, at the Joe Crowley Student Union.

The event, hosted annually by UNR’s Cultural Diversity Committee, aims to present the challenges associated with diversity on college campuses and within surrounding communities, and propose potential changes and solutions.

The summit will serve as a forum for students and community members to engage in workshops and panels on such matters as gender, medical treatment across ethnicities and the challenges associated with being ‘non-white’.

Presenters, selected based on proposals they submitted over the course of the last several months, were recently announced along with a detailed schedule of events, and are available on the Cultural Diversity Committee’s page of the UNR website.

According to event organizer Matthew Aguirre, the summit centers around a different theme every year. He says this year’s theme of diversity, equity and inclusion was heavily influenced by the current political climate.

“We always look at what is going on it the community and the country, and determine our theme based on that,” Aguirre said.

The summit’s commitment to inclusion and related initiatives is shared by several on-campus groups. The Intensive English Language Center works with international students in order to facilitate their integration into the student body.

Veeraporn Siridachanon is a student volunteer with the Center. She says limited diversity on campus can make it difficult for international students to find their place and discourages them from interacting with non-international students.

“Being more open and inclusive helps the students feel more like they belong here, even in situations where diversity is limited,” Siridachanon said.

Siridachanon says that some students’ exposure to American culture has been limited to what they have seen of President Donald Trump, and expressed concern over how they would be received by students, who they assumed would hold similar views.

“I do my best to encourage American students to talk to international students. It can be hard for them to feel welcome otherwise,” Siridachanon said.

Keeping with its commitment to promote campus-wide inclusion, the summit’s discussions will address the subject of faculty diversity, in addition to student diversity.

Esam Salem, originally from Libya, spent several years teaching Arabic at George Mason University in Washington, D.C. before coming to UNR. He says that the lack of diversity at UNR has more to do with the population that feeds into it than any fault on the part of the university itself.

Salem said the students he taught at George Mason came from around the country, representing a greater variety of states, religions and cultures. Most of his students at UNR are locals of similar cultural backgrounds.

According to Salem, the university holds regular events within the Department of Language and Literature in order to celebrate diversity and inclusion among the faculty. He is unaware of any similar events held for students.

“On-campus diversity is very important for students, it gives them the opportunity to learn about races, cultures and countries other than their own,” Salem said.

Salem is familiar with the negative attitudes toward Middle Easterners, which he has encountered several times off-campus since arriving in the United States in 2010. However, he says he never experienced anything similar on-campus, and that the dynamic of his classes was never significantly impacted by the political situation.

“My students and I made the election and debates a good occasion for discussion and to know more about our own views and analyze what is going on in the world around us,” Salem said.

Alejandra Horwitz can be reached at mpurdue@sagebrush.unr.edu and on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.