First annual Diversity Ball brings campus groups together

By Parker Otto

DeKALB — Nearly 150 representatives of several NIU organizations came together for a night of entertainment and networking at the inaugural NIU Diversity Ball. 

The Diversity Ball was a formal event held from 5 to 9 p.m. Wednesday in the Duke Ellington Ballroom of the Holmes Student Center. 

It was held for diverse groups across campus to “network with each other,” Giovanni Gutierrez, president of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, said. Gutierrez attended the event as a representative of his group. 

“The event is meant to promote cultural diversity on campus,” he said.

The ball was put together by biomedical engineer German Ibarra and Christine Lagattolla, assistant director of Outdoor Adventures, both of whom have worked on this event for a year. 

Sponsors for the event include Pittsley Realty Inc., NIU Athletics and First State Bank. 

“This event is about helping students find and use their voices,” Ibarra said. 

The idea for a Diversity Ball came to Ibarra in September 2018 when he saw there was miscommunication between groups at a diversity event, he said. 

“There was a lot of misrepresentation,” Ibarra said. “We just misunderstood [each other] and never got to experience other cultures.” 

Groups in attendance, included members of the Student Association, Greek Life and the Fashion Industries Organization, which provided decorations for the event.

The decorations used floral patterns on the tables as well as faux candles, which Ibarra said he loved.

“[Ibarra] reached out to [FIO] to see if we wanted to decorate for the event,” Breanna Reynolds, FIO president, said. “Working with this event was very exciting.”

“I am not artistic and what [FIO] did took what I imagined and made it more colorful,” Ibarra said.

The event began with opening remarks from Ibarra and Lagatattolla as well as NIU President Lisa Freeman, who said she was pleased with how the event turned out. 

“In our community, we really pride ourselves on being a diverse community [with] a student body, a welcoming faculty and staff who bring together people with different identities,” Freeman said. “Our student voices matter.”

The Diversity Ball had several forms of entertainment including two spoken poems by the group 4 Poets 1 Mic, comprised of students on campus. The poem addressed what the group sees as problems facing the black community, including police brutality. 

Throughout the night, Dajhumbay “Sweet Note” Russell provided music on the steel pan, which got students dancing to songs like “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley and “Uptown Funk” by Bruno Mars. Music students Katie Monroy, a sophomore, and Graduate Assistant Qian Zhang also performed that evening in a duo with Monroy on cello and Zhang on piano.

The night concluded with a dance lesson conducted by Assistant Professor John Shelton, who taught attendees the basics of salsa dancing and bachata dancing, two styles originating in Latin America. Nearly everyone present was engaged in the lesson and people were still dancing as the event concluded. 

“When we look back on this first event and the pictures we took tonight with each other and we say while there were only 100 people at the first Diversity Ball, look at how many people are coming to this annual event now,” Freeman said.