Symposium facilitates diversity discussions

The Institute held its fourth annual Diversity Symposium on Friday, Sept. 7. The event, sponsored by the Office of Diversity Affairs, was meant to encourage communication about issues such as racism, sexism and homophobia, and attracted students, faculty and staff from several departments and areas around campus. The symposium consisted of an opening question-and-answer panel, a keynote address during lunch and afternoon breakout sessions to address more specific problems at Tech.

“People must empathize with the realities of minorities. Only four percent of underrepresented minorities [that] graduate high school [are] engineering-eligible,” said Dr. Johnetta Cole, Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art and the event’s keynote speaker.

Tech’s student population of more than 20,000 and its faculty population of about 1000 represent much of the world’s demographics. However, some question the depth of the Institute’s diversity.

As of Fall 2009, 63 percent of the undergraduate student body at Tech was Caucasian and 22 percent was Asian; this figure includes ethnicities from the Asian subcontinent. Comparatively, African Americans, Latin Americans, Native Americans and multiracial students, combined, formed 15 percent of the student body.

Statistics from the fall of 2010 show that female enrollment at Tech was at an all-time high of 36 percent. Additionally, more than half of the students at Tech are in-state residents.

Others, such as Undergraduate Student Body President Eran Mordel, view diversity as more than simple statistics.

“I really think we’re at a good place […] I love that you can find every color and language on campus,” Mordel said.

Dr. Charles Isbell, a Senior Associate Dean at the School of Interactive Computing, claimed that diversity extended beyond the traditional definition based on skin color or race.

“Diversity also encompasses diversity of experience and diversity of ideas. It’s in the best interest of Georgia Tech to increase its diversity in all forms,” Isbell said.

The symposium was ultimately intended to serve as an outlet for discussion.

“[The goal was to] give the campus community and the people that have the ability to come together and to have conversations about diversity and equity an opportunity to speak,” said Dr. Archie Ervin, the Vice President for Institute Diversity.

A series of breakout sessions addressed issues ranging from strategies that individuals and groups could play in building trust and community to policies that need to be created in order to ensure a welcoming campus culture at Tech.

Each session was an open forum where any member of the student body, the faculty or the staff could voice his or her opinion to a group of individuals concerned about the same issues.

Rather than a method for inciting immediate change, the symposium is intended to gradually propagate an open mentality at Tech.

“The [right] sort of discussion arenas…will decide if there are things we can do,” Ervin said.