(Written by Sara Arthurs, staff writer for The (Findlay) Courier. Story originally published April 2, 2019).
Nonprofit organizations and University of Findlay students are working side by side to create projects that showcase diversity – and they’re learning a lot along the way.
The “Pursuing Cultural Humility” projects, funded through a Findlay-Hancock County Community Foundation grant received by the university’s Buford Center for Diversity and Service, partners 11 students with staff at seven nonprofits to explore diversity.
Robert Braylock, director of intercultural student services at the Buford Center, said the hopes that the nonprofits will have “an additional lens” with which to view the services they offer.
Many organizations have “a consistent demographic in leadership,” and this can miss the perspectives of women, immigrants and communities of color, he said. Involving university students also lets the nonprofit staff see the issues through the lens of youth, he said.
Students and nonprofit staff went through diversity training together. They strove to have “honest, frank discussion” in a safe space, the Buford Center’s Office of Service and Community Engagement Director Crystal Weitz said.
“This stuff is not surface level,” she said. “It’s pretty deep.”
One project that emerged from this partnership, “Cheap Eats,” will take place from 5-7 p.m. Wednesday at the UF’s Alumni Memorial Union. The public event is a joint effort between Chopin Hall, the West Ohio Food Bank and the university students working with each group.
Students at the Café at Millstream will prepare and serve six dishes, some of them from India and Bangladesh. There will also be food boxes available with most of the ingredients for each dish.
West Ohio Food Bank CEO Linda Hamilton said the event will raise awareness that hunger can be an issue among college students.
“The bottom line is, we are all different,” and this gives people the opportunity to “be understanding of differences,” said Chopin Hall Executive Director Ron Rooker. He said his personal view is that currently, “as a country,” we are struggling to accept differences.
Working with student Sadia Akhter Aurna, Rooker learned he had been mispronouncing the name of her country, Bangladesh. And Rooker, in his late 50s, said college students bring a high energy to any project.
This effort “reconfirms that the next generation… the youth that’s in college right now, they’re going to be our future leaders,” he said. “And it’s cool to see there’s a lot of good, good kids out there.”
Another nonprofit participating is Focus, a center for and by people in recovery from mental health, substance use or trauma issues.
Program coordinator Ben Hippensteel, who is working with university students, is also an artist with a studio in the Jones Building, and creates performance art as drag queen Candi Wantsom? So he and executive director Ellyn Schmiesing began discussing an art-centered project.
Jones Building artists will visit Focus and experience “recovery culture.” Four of the artists will also sit down one-on-one to hear the story of someone in recovery, then create art to hang on Focus’s walls.
Hippensteel said the art will be trauma-informed. The goal is to be “very calming. …We don’t want to trigger anybody.”
Organizers also sought to look at how culture can affect recovery.
While most of the projects wrap up this month, Focus got an extension to September, so the art will be unveiled at an art opening during Recovery Month.
Hippensteel said his hope is that the resulting artwork will bring into the light some of the community’s different: “There’s many, many different kinds of people here.”
Braylock said the hope is, when the next round of community conversations happens, that “people feel like Findlay is a more welcoming place… a safer place for them to be themselves.”
Weitz said they call it “pursuing cultural humility” because “it’s a pursuit,” and is ongoing rather than ever complete.