Southeast Missouri State University student publication

Southeast students took a stand to integrate diversity on campus by volunteering in the “Ask a Blank” series

Sunday, April 28, 2019
(Left to Right) Sophomore Joshua Taylor, Senior Jay Wade and Diversity and Inclusion Chair Xavier Payne answer student questions at their Ask an African American booth.
Photo by Mariena Carter ~ Staff Writer

The participants in the series were Atheist, Muslim, LGBTQ and African American. The series went every day from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in front of Kent Library.

Diversity and Inclusion chair Xavier Payne felt this event would help his committee execute the mission statement.

The mission statement says “Values access to high quality, affordable education with a broadly representative student body, faculty and staff that respects and celebrates a diverse learning community in a global society.”

“We pride ourselves on diversity in our mission statement and we wanted to bring back this series to make sure diversity is really key and to get students talking,” Payne said.

Payne said the week had a great turnout with lots of engaging conversations with students and the participants. He hopes this event will continue in the future but have a different location on campus, so they can attract more students.

The series started Monday with “Ask an Atheist.” Student government senator Katelyn McCracken sat behind the booth answering questions for anyone who approached.

“A common question asked was, ‘Why do I choose to not believe in God?’” McCracken said.

She explained to students her personal beliefs, but made an effort to point out she has nothing against anyone and their own personal beliefs, especially if they choose to believe in God, she said.

McCracken said she volunteered for the series because she wanted to show people who she is and to show other students it is OK to have a different opinion.

Tuesday was “Ask a Muslim” day. Student senator Freshman Kajal Puri and Muslim volunteers Razan Rouamy and Maria Sheikh shared information with students about their ethnicity.

“The most common question I get is that people have the impression that you are forced to wear a headscarf or that you being covered up means oppression,” Rouamy said. “I wanted to inform people that this is not the case and that many people wear it for religious reasons, but a lot of us won’t cover our entire face with it and sometimes we don’t wear them at all.”

Even though students asked questions for the volunteers behind the booth, the volunteers also had questions for students.

“I want to know why is a woman exposing her body considered freedom?” Rouamy said. “Why does revealing a lot of skin equal freedom and why does me choosing to cover up mean oppression?”

The women said they actually had many meaningful conversations with people at the booth and they felt more empowered in volunteering for the series.

“I feel that I have confidence in who I am and what I identify with, which is a Muslim woman,” Buri said. “Volunteering for this series has given me pride in representing myself and being there to answer questions for students on campus to get to know me better based on my identity.”

Two years ago Southeast conducted a video of the “Ask a Blank” series. LGBTQ Resource Center graduate assistant Grayson Belling was among the first volunteers for the event and chose to come back this year representing the LGBTQ community on Wednesday, March 24. Grayson feels it’s important to be visible and start having diverse conversations.

“I'm not trying to get people to understand who I am because nobody is going to understand me except me; I’m trying to represent myself and what I stand for, so I chose to volunteer to answer any questions people might have,” he said.

To Grayson, the series is about breaking down barriers between people and having meaningful conversations. He said he is always willing to sit at a booth or just have a conversation with someone about the LGBTQ community.

On Friday, March 27, senior Jay Wade and sophomore Joshua Taylor volunteered for the “Ask an African American,” booth.

“I grew up in a world where people were scared to ask me things and to just talk to me because of my skin color, so I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to have an open area where we can just talk and not have a barrier but have an excuse to have a good conversation with others,” Wade said.