The first ever Student Leaders Diversity Dialogue held Thursday evening laid the groundwork for future diversity initiatives on the University of Wisconsin campus.

The dialogue was shaped as a safe space for participants to share their own personal experiences with diversity on campus if they chose to do so and discuss the way to foster a climate of acceptance and understanding on campus.

The invited participants were encouraged to speak about their experiences as students, not on behalf of their organization.

Wisconsin Union Directorate President Xiang yun Zhang and Associated Students of Madison Diversity Committee Chair Steve Olikara conceived the dialogue.

Olikara said the general goal of the dialogue was to sponsor a more thoughtful discussion on campus and to be inclusive of all students.

He said UW could use the dialogues as a stepping-stone for a transition toward a more inclusive campus environment and to find out what the word “diversity” means to students on campus today.

The dialogue brought in student leaders from a number of organizations, including ASM, MultiCultural Student Coalition, Wisconsin Black Student Union to name a few and also the leaders of student media outlets, including the editor in chief of The Badger Herald, The Daily Cardinal and WSUM.

The conversation flowed from a discussion on the idea of diversity, a term no participant was able to absolutely define, to possible initiatives which could be taken to foster a more accepting climate on campus.

Shaun Aukland, a representative from the Wisconsin Alumni Student Board and All-Campus Party, said he felt while any potential diversity programs looking to reach out to all students are good, a program which makes a difference in the life of even three students should not be overlooked.

ASM Student Council member Max Love said the human experience and connections formed in those groups are part of college.

“If [students] walk away from dialogues thinking about something they didn’t consider before, it can be an improvement,” Aukland said.

The participants agreed it would be advantageous to have genuine conversations about diversity during Student Orientation and Registration, a time when a majority of students are eager to participate in campus events.

While there are many organizations available to students on campus, Love said there is no way to guarantee all students will be engaged in participating.

MCSC Executive Staff Member Lena Marx said it is not the students’ task alone to work towards diversity and understanding on campus, but also the UW administration.

“Our students should have that conversation and asking questions,” UW Vice Provost of Climate and Diversity Damon Williams said in an interview with The Badger Herald.

ASM representative Carl Fergus said he felt the surface had only been scratched on the diversity conversation and hoped for future dialogues with more students getting involved.

Olikara said he was very excited about the success of the dialogue and said it was a breakthrough for diversity dialogues on campus.

No UW faculty, staff and administration were present at the dialogue.

There was discussion about the dialogues eventually evolving into a larger conference, the nature of which has yet to be determined.

Correction: This article should have stated that that Shaun Aukland was a representative of Wisconsin Alumni Student Board and All-Campus Party. It has been changed to reflect that.

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