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Students and locals discuss diversity

About 100 Ohio University students and Athens residents gathered at last night’s Athens Town Hall meeting to talk about diversity in the area.

At the meeting, held at the Athens Community Center, 701 E. State St., guests were encouraged to discuss diversity in the area in small groups.

Small-group dialogue focused on aspects of culture identity, such as age, class, regional diversity and sexual orientation. They talked about how these aspects created a division between residents and students.

“Part of what we would like to do is for all of us to get to know our community better,” said John Schmieding, director of the Athens Community Relations Commission.

Michele Papai, an 18-year Athens resident, compared raising her children around the OU student life to living in New Orleans.

“(My children) have seen both sides of (Athens) while they have been growing up,” said Papai, who is also a member of the Athens City Board of Zoning Appeals and candidate for Athens City Council’s 3rd Ward seat.

Papai added that raising her children in a college environment led to a lot of questions about college life at an early age.

Every group agreed that age and class were the two most salient diversity problems in Athens.

“College students walk by (an older person) on the street and look at you like you do not exist,” said Elaine Mather, an Athens resident.

Brian Bridges, OU’s vice provost for Diversity, Access and Equity, said there is a difference between how students and residents view issues.

“Class changes with age because different situations make you think about different things,” Bridges said.

Near the end of the meeting, each group was asked to share what they thought could be done to help diversity problems in Athens.

“We need to think about using empowerment more than just focusing on our differences,” said Mickey Hart, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Center.

Bridges said communication is difficult between the university and residents because the population of OU is always changing.

“The intrinsic nature of the community is something we have to be mindful of,” Bridges said.

Problems have arisen between residents and students because each sees the other as a single block, said Athens City Planner Paul Logue.

The groups only see how diverse they are when they look at themselves, he added.

Bridges said he was pleased with the success of the meeting and wants to have more in the future. He added that he also wants to hold a similar meeting on campus to include more students.


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