Posted December 18, 2014 by Elizabeth Beltramini 

Out of the Darkness

The first movie my daughter saw in a theater was Despicable Me 2. She was about 2 years old at the time, and her body weight barely held down the collapsible seat. With popcorn in hand, she was experiencing a novel adventure! Her excitement was amusing. As the previews started and the lights dimmed, she turned to me astonished and said: “Why is it getting dark?”

Everyone talks about how having children is like experiencing the world for the first time. This was one of those moments. I realized that we had never turned out the lights at home when watching a movie, so she had no way of anticipating or understanding the reason for doing so at a theater. It made me consider what other practices I take for granted that might seem unusual to those without a similar background of experience.December2014

ACUI seeks to be recognized by members as a multicultural organization, and our current strategic plan outlines objectives for achieving this vision. Recently, the Association made critical progress in this area by instructing me and several volunteers to conduct a self-assessment of the organization against several benchmarks. More information about this effort is available here. After reviewing the team’s report, the Board of Trustees approved a set of recommendations and charged the Central Office to assign a staff person with oversight of ACUI’s diversity and inclusion efforts (me). I encourage to you join the conversation as we seek to implement the recommendations and develop a volunteer workforce in this area.

We are fortunate that ACUI has a legacy of volunteer commitment to inclusion. A 1989 Bulletin article detailed the Association’s history of fighting racism, a story worth sharing again in this centennial year. These efforts have placed us on the leading edge of equality for decades—setting policies, initiating investigations, and fostering support for excluded communities. Between our 75th anniversary in 1989 and this year’s 100th anniversary, the Association has also has been recognized nationally for its support of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals. Now we must also champion others whose voices are underrepresented.

One of the ways ACUI will be successful in this endeavor is by increasing the staff’s, volunteers’, and members’ cultural competency. Along these lines, this photo essay shares ACUI intern Megan Medelin’s recent travels to Ghana. She visited three higher education institutions and offers insights into what she learned about Ghanaians through her experience. In the current ACUI Education Plan, the skill set of Global Knowledge is noted as both an area in which union professionals desire more knowledge and one in which they do not have expertise. By expanding our world view, we hope to enhance all Bulletin readers’ Intercultural Proficiency.

One of Medelin’s interesting notes about Ghanaian universities is that the library often serves as a college union. In England and the United States, the earliest college unions were debating societies, providing a forum for discourse and competing ideals. These organizations sought to bring communities together by creating open dialogue. Is this concept not, at its core, about diversity and inclusion? TJ Willis examines our early history and how we also find college unions rooted in literary societies and leisure facilities. These influences have shaped the college union and helped it become the modern gathering place for the campus. By understanding the vision for unions when they were formed, we can better uphold that ideal today.

And we do this work well. We see the affirmation in Leah Barrett’s dissertation study, in which she found that, of any space on campus, the college union had the strongest correlation between students’ sense of belonging and support. Her quantitative research across numerous institutions indicated that much of students’ satisfaction with the sense of community on campus could be attributed to their satisfaction with the college union. While the Role of the College Union statement has heralded this message since 1956, Barrett offers empirical evidence for the truth of this vision today.

A college union seeks to be a welcoming place, central to the campus culture and bringing together individuals with disparate life stories. Using this frame, we must be cognizant of the assumptions we make based on our own cultural lenses. For my daughter, the dark movie theater made the movie experience more enjoyable and special. However, many movie theaters have started hosting designated show times with the lights on and the volume turned down, realizing that darkness and loud noises can be triggers for some movie-goers with Autism Spectrum Disorder. By owning our own experiences and appreciating cultures other than our own, we can strengthen the Association and the union profession.

Elizabeth Beltramini

Elizabeth Beltramini is the Director of Content Curation at ACUI.

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