Southeast Video Diversity Message Shared Far, Wide

Muslim boothCAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., Jan. 27, 2016 – One week: more than 100,000 views, 260,000 reached, over 1,700 social media shares.

To say a video shown at Southeast Missouri State University’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dinner Celebration Jan. 20 has been impactful would be an understatement. The statistics speak for themselves.

“The point was to continue the conversations, and that, in fact, is happening,” said Olivia Snare, a senior public relations major from Brentwood, Missouri, and student who appeared in the video.

She and other video participants say they have communicated with friends and family in Australia and India who have viewed the video and are sharing its message.

“You immediately saw a spreading of knowledge,” Snare said about the video that runs just 14 minutes but has kept people in Cape Girardeau, across the nation and around the world talking about the message.

To view the video in Facebook, click here.

The video, produced by Tonya Wells and Aaron Eisenhauer in University Communications and Marketing at Southeast Missouri State University, was shown at last week’s King celebration. The video shows clips of more than 40 hours of conservations taped at Southeast last fall that resulted when talking booths were placed on campus inviting passersby to ask questions of members of various ethnic and cultural groups. What resulted was honest conversation about race, religion, identity, diversity, stereotypes and the uniqueness of everyone’s personal experience.

Over the course of a two-week period, talking booths invited students to stop and “Ask a Muslim,” “Ask an African American,” “Ask a Caucasian,” “Ask an LGBTQ,” “Ask an International Student” and “Ask a Christian.”

The result, Wells said, is that “people were really interested in talking about things you wouldn’t really talk about.”

Kevin Windham, a senior corporate communications major from St. Louis, Missouri, served on the President’s Task Force on Diversity Education last year and volunteered to sit in the “Ask an African American Booth.” He admits he was skeptical of the project at first and feared the booths might stir conversations that were “too honest.” Instead, he found something quite different.

“The hardest part was just getting people to talk to you,” he said, admitting many passersby “didn’t have the courage within themselves to ask. Vulnerability is a deterrent to asking,” he said. “It was about creating the comfortable environment.”

He says he was asked why it is considered appropriate for African Americans to utter the “N” word, but taboo for Caucasians to do the same.

“My reaction in general answered the question,” he said, admitting the question stirred his emotions.

Wesley Cox, a communication studies major from Ferguson, Missouri, said he was asked why African Americans find the “All Lives Matter” phrase hurtful rhetoric. “What we are really saying is that ‘Black Lives Matter’, also,” he said.

Dr. Allen Gathman, dean of Online Learning who also participated in the video, said the statement “’Black Lives Matter’ doesn’t mean ‘All Lives Don’t Matter.’”

But he emphasized that “‘Black Lives Matter’ needs to be said.”

Tyler Sayer, a senior advertising major from O’Fallon, Missouri, said an African American student asked him why Caucasians are fascinated with touching the hair of African Americans.

Gathman said he also was asked why Caucasians like Taylor Swift and if Caucasians and African Americans differ biologically.

Sia Sharma, a graduate student from India who served as a graduate assistant to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Planning Committee, said she volunteered to sit in the “Ask an International Student” booth. She says young women from India are often stereotyped for having “beautiful hair and being good at math.”

Coming to the United States, she was afraid people would make fun of her because of her foreign accent. The booth, she said, opened up conversations about the struggles international students face in the United States. Snare said she learned from a Chinese student, while sitting in the booth, how fortunate Americans are to have their freedom.

In the end, Eisenhauer says producing the video “was a lot of fun.”

Ultimately, Cox says he wonders “what would have happened if the camera wasn’t there. People may have been more blunt.”

Camera or no camera, the video has invigorated conversations, he says. After taking his turn sitting in the “Ask an African American” booth, he says he stopped by Starbucks on campus, where the dialogue continued. A female Caucasian student approached him and asked what she could do to help. And dinner keynote speaker Wesley Moore told the audience residents in major U.S. cities, like Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, Maryland, would be well served by watching the video. Perhaps this is the spark to ignite productive dialogue and has created a space to both discuss and celebrate diversity at Southeast.