Students and faculty showed up to SGA’s Inclusion Walk
Roberta Marquette-Strain / Senior Staff Writer
For the past two months, the Student Government Association (SGA) has been preparing for the Inclusion Walk to kick-off their new student-led program, Moving Mountains. The Moving Mountains Initiative aims to create a stronger community on campus by focusing on inclusivity and acceptance, while also challenging students to partake in tough conversations dealing with race, sexual orientation, and other topics.
The Inclusion Walk did just that.
Held in the Mountaineer Field House on the evening of Wednesday, Feb. 22, around 100 students and faculty members showed up to stand for inclusion on campus. Following an introduction and explanation of Moving Mountains by SGA President Flynn Guerrieri, Associate Vice President of Student Affairs Melanie Hulbert gave a speech focused on the importance of understanding one’s identity as well as accepting others’ identity. “Western, it is wise to see people for who they are, to acknowledge that people’s experience may be different than yours. It is wise to feel uncomfortable and push yourself into place, with people that look different than you, that speak different, that think different.”
Hulbert touched on her own experience with learning to push herself to be more understanding of others’ backgrounds and open to difficult conversations. She referred to herself as a “recovering racist.”
“I’m still trying to unlearn those messages that whether consciously or not, got deep into my brain as a little child,” Hulbert said honestly. “I’m still trying to learn what it means to think in a diverse and inclusive way.”
Hulbert ended her speech by asking the crowd what kind of ancestor they want be, and what legacy they want to leave behind for future Western students. For Hulbert, she hoped that the Inclusion Walk would set the foundation for the future of a more inclusive, diverse, and accepting campus.
When the time for the inclusion walk came, where the attendees walked twice around the track, Hulbert asked them to talk and walk beside someone they didn’t know and most importantly, didn’t look like them.
When discussing the purpose of the Inclusion Walk, Hulbert said, “(We will walk) to give expression to our desire that at Western, we will work everyday to fight hate and encourage open conversation about race, class, gender, sexuality, religion, political identity. We will walk because we are a community committed to inclusion and respect and that we will do anything we can to break down the walls or barriers that stand between us. That’s an inclusion walk.”
After the walk, the attendees got to have some fun on the inflatables SGA provided. Some students went head to head on an obstacle course while other, more daring students went for a ride on a mechanical bull.
Clubs like Spectrum, which is the LGBT+ group, and Program Council had booths at the event to talk to attendees about what their clubs do to support an inclusive campus.
Students Ethan Menzies and Ariana Sorensen were interested in the event because of its focus on inclusivity, but also to come together to help build a stronger community. “It’s an event that has meaning, and the goal is to get people together to create a better environment we want to live in,” Menzies said.
Sorensen agreed, adding, “I feel like this is a good step towards making progress.”
SGA member Ashley Nguyen was required to come, but said she would have come anyway if she wasn’t a part of SGA to meet new people and help set the foundation for a more inclusive campus. Nguyen is also a member of the Asian Pacific Islanders club, which is associated with the Multicultural Center (MCC). For her, inclusion is incredibly important, and she has had personal experiences of being excluded, “I went to an all-white high school, so growing up I always felt not included, and honestly not important. But coming here and starting fresh and being a part of the MCC, I feel like I belong and have a place on campus. I’m very excited to see what (Moving Mountains) will do.”
Following the impressive turnout for the event, Guerrieri is looking forward to what comes of the program in the future, and hopes to see it continue for many years to come.
The Inclusion Walk was considered successful by the SGA members, but they recognize that this is just the first step. In her own speech, Hulbert acknowledged this as well, and pushed the students to continue to lend their voices to fight discrimination, color blindness, and so on. Because before the Western community can move mountains, they have to move stones first.