By Kelly Sather
April 29, 2011—The University of Wisconsin-River Falls marked its annual Unity in the Community celebration April 17-20. This celebration featured a host of events celebrating diversity and unification throughout the week.
“UWRF has a mission, a set of values, and a plan that includes building a more inclusive campus and community. Unity is an extension of this plan because it puts those words into action,” says Nikki Shonoiki, co-diversity programmer of Falcon Programs. “Events like Unity help facilitate new understandings and appreciation between people with different cultures within the community who might not try to get to know each other otherwise.”
One of the featured events was Bike to Uganda. Bike to Uganda efforts are connected with Building Tomorrow, an international social-profit organization that raises awareness and funds to build and support educational facilities for under-served children in sub-Saharan Africa.
On April 20, UWRF faculty, staff and students attempted to bike the same distance as the 7,873-mile journey from River Falls to Kampala, Uganda and raised $615 for the organization.
“Students and staff really enjoy helping with Bike to Uganda. The event had tremendous support, and students were very excited to be a part of this great tradition,” says Nene Eze, co-diversity programmer of Falcon Programs.
In the days leading up to April 20, the campus community participated in smaller events such as non-perishable food sculptures, poverty simulations, and a Tim Wise film. On April 20, the main day of the event, lunch at Riverside Commons was culturally themed and included African, French, Italian, American and European style dishes.
UWRF students were also invited to an open forum discussion about intercultural transitions and new cultural experience with international and study abroad students.
“Students can learn from each other. A student may not have the opportunity to visit another country, but when there are different students on campus who are from these different countries and different cultures, a student can visually visit a country and learn a thing or two about it,” says Eze.
Sponsored by the UWRF College of Education and Professional Studies, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the St. Croix Valley Institute for Sustainable Community Development, a sustainable art installation was also held. Titled “In Between,” this installation examined the subliminal space that exists between words and society’s understanding of couched diversity.
“There is so much to gain from an event like this. Through the sustainable art installation students can be well informed and learn what diversity means to him or her through art,” says Eze.
Also during that day, UWRF students hosted a photo campaign to end the phrase "That's so gay." Students, faculty and staff had the chance to be apart of the photo shoot and pledge to be a part of the "Think B4 You Speak" pledge.
Emceed by socially conscious-rapper, Jasiri X, students and staff participated in on-stage performances, which ranged from music and poetry to foot juggling and traditional Mongolian dance.
The celebration continued that evening with an event sponsored by the River Falls Area Diversity Committee featuring the Kinni Song Sisters, Black Student Union Gospel Choir, Irish dancers, Dance Theatre, and the International Student Association.
“River Falls is a community that is so much in tune with service and diversity,” says Eze. “This is an event that not only brings the students together, but the community as a whole.”
Photo: Singers from the Black Student Union Gospel Choir perform for the crowd at Unity in the Community.