Diversity Ball set for fall

By Taher Zeitoun

DeKALB ­­— After attending an event featuring multiple student leaders, German Ibarra, senior electrical engineering major, realized there were many misconceptions regarding diversity on campus.

So, he created The Diversity Ball, which carries a mission to promote alliance between student bodies, celebrate cultural variety and develop a sense of unity by bringing campus leaders together for a night of dancing and feasting.

The event was approved by the university Monday and will be held in the Duke Ellington Ballroom at the Holmes Student Center in fall of 2019.

Ibarra said one way the event will aim to celebrate differences between cultures will be by having five culturally distinct dishes. During dinner, Ibarra said music from many different cultures will be playing, and dancing will be encouraged. The music and food are to be determined.

Ibarra said his goal is to eliminate exclusionary systems and practices.

“By creating an environment where everyone and anyone from every background is welcome, we achieve the goal the ball is attempting to promote,” Ibarra said.

Additional desired outcomes of the ball include having participants speak with other students regarding personal experiences, listening to others’ realities and taking away a sense of belonging, Ibarra said.

Ibarra said this will be accomplished by having activities to motivate, involve and stimulate the audience. He said there will be time allotted for the student leaders of the different diversity organizations to speak on the importance of diversity.

Jocelyn Santana, social justice education coordinator for Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, helped Ibarra in his quest to host the event.

Ibarra said the next step is to reach out to the other heads of diversity departments for their support in funding. The reaching-out process will consist of sending personalized emails, detailing what the event is and what it represents.

Luis Santos-Rivas, director of the Latino Resource Center, said he supports Ibarra and his mission to bring groups together for a night of cultural celebration.

Santos-Rivas said student leadership is important, and events like the Diversity Ball offer multiple benefits to university.

“Bringing people together from many different cultures and backgrounds is beneficial to creating a more understanding atmosphere around this campus,” Santos-Rivas said.

Ibarra said the idea for the Diversity Ball came when he attended the Conversations for Diversity and Equity [CODE] workshop, an event which gathered various organizational leaders, providing an opportunity to interchange ideas and build coalitions, according to the NIU website.

An activity was setup at the workshop that asked the diversity heads to write down what came to mind in regards to different cultural, religious and organizational groups. Ibarra said he responses opened his eyes to a problem he thought no longer existed.

He said when the responses were read aloud, around 80 percent of them were negative.

“The Muslim note stated ‘9/11’ and one response regarding African American culture read ‘chicken wings’,” Ibarra said. “It’s just misinterpretation, and it is clear that a lot of these individuals do not know the culture due to isolation within their own organization.”

Ibarra said the Diversity Ball will help solve this problem by bringing together not only department heads of different diversity organizations but also interested students as well.

He said the organizations he worked with at the CODE workshops understand the importance of cultural knowledge.

“My main goal with the ball is to bring these diverse student groups together and further this communication between our culture organizations,” Ibarra said. “Everyone will understand [that] if we simply introduce each other to these cultures and you come in with an open mind, you are going to find out much more than you expect.”

Christine Lagattolla, Assistant Director for Outdoor Adventures, has been a CODE facilitator for years and said Outdoor Adventures have been building on the idea that students should take action.

Lagattolla said she was facilitating the day of the exercise and, after hearing Ibarra’s pitch for the ball, immediately offered up her help in planning.

Lagattolla said the Outdoor Adventures Club revolves around student leadership and a event like the Diversity Ball can help bring students together, creating conversation and solutions to real world problems.

“After being on campus a long time now, it is rare to see a student like [Ibarra] taking initiative,” Lagattolla said. “He has a certain energy and excitement around him, and you can tell by his interest, he knows this event is going to bring people together.”

She said when faculty and staff are passionate, mixed with innovative students, organizations can develop consistent traditions, which is key in eliminating frustration when it comes to funding and planning events.

Ibarra said he hopes the ball is an formal event, similar to the Greek formals, in which all the diverse organizations at NIU can look forward to attending every year.

He said he wishes it to be a reminder to what our campus represents in terms of honoring our racial differences.

“This is one of the most diverse campuses in Illinois and for it to work at achieving greatness it needs to start by simply connecting with people of different color, ethnicity and beliefs,” Ibarra said.