With a crowd of roughly 40 people, participants in the third Ohio University Bobcat Unity Walk spoke passionately about campus diversity.
The march began at 4 p.m. when the few dozen marchers descended the stairs by the bottom of Baker Center and walked along the bike path. The route changed from previous years to avoid steep hills around campus that made the path less accessible.
Participants talked among themselves, some who were meeting one another for the first time. The Bobcat Unity Walk banner led the way while a peace sign flag and a few pride flags were seen toward the back. Participants of various ethnicities made their way through the Clippinger Hall parking lot and into Walter Hall where the reception was held.
William Vu, an international student from Vietnam who is a senior studying biochemistry, came to International Student Union’s first unity walk two years ago and returned Monday because he appreciated the opportunity for international students to gather together and share their stories.
Participants were able to grab snacks and refreshments before ISU president Carla Triana introduced the event’s speakers including an international student, a faculty member and an Appalachian student — all of whom gave a unique perspective on what it means to have certain identities.
“We really want to include everyone because that is what diversity is,” Triana, a senior studying international business, said during her speech. “Especially in this current climate, … it’s most important to feel welcome and safe.”
Safiya Ahmed, a doctorate student studying civil engineering, said her primary school had a 90-percent dropout rate because people weren’t concerned about education. She continued her higher education in Iraq under harsh conditions.
“Going to undergraduate school in my country was literally like being a soldier in a battlefield,” she said. “Studying, and at the same time, hiding or running from killing, bombing, kidnapping (and) explosions.”
Ahmed came to Ohio from Iraq in 2015 and kept pursuing higher degrees to acquire her dream job. She said she’s still learning and has much more she wants to accomplish.
People with different identities still face problems at OU and in Athens. But there’s hope, delfin bautista, director of the LGBT Center, said. bautista, who uses they/them pronouns and the lowercase spelling of their name, said people need to focus on what makes each person diverse.
Everyone was encouraged by bautista to shout out the labels that express who they truly are. The request was met with hesitation but was soon followed by outcries of words such as Jewish, gay and Asian-American.
Ruby Williams, a junior studying integrated social studies education, has lived in impoverished Appalachia for most of her life. She said she didn’t understand race until Barack Obama ran for president, and she heard many negative comments about the former president because of his race. Now, pursuing an undergraduate degree at OU has made her interested in traveling and foreign cultures.
Williams traveled to several different countries overseas for work, teaching locals English as a foreign language.
“It took me traveling over 8,000 miles and connecting with people that I didn’t hardly share a common language with for me to become comfortable with uncomfortable,” she said in her speech. “I see humanity now as a beautiful mosaic of endless uniqueness.”
Everyone should reach out to someone who doesn’t look like them to create unity through diversity among people who share this world, she said.
Triana opened the floor for participants to speak freely about their experiences relating to diversity. Some spoke of how the university allowed them to embrace the cultures they tried to hide before, while others mentioned how they found a family away from home.
“Growing up as a Vietnamese here, I tried to resist that (culture) as much as I could,” Vu said. “(But) I’ve learned a lot, and this is where I found myself.”