Understanding Our Differences

By Emma Kersting '24, August 26, 2022

Keynote speaker headlines college’s Day of Learning.

On August 21, Ithaca College hosted Michael Benitez Jr., the vice president of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at Metropolitan State University of Denver, as the first event of this year’s Day of Learning series.

The series, which aims to help people recognize biases in higher education, is put on by the college’s Center for Inclusivity, Diversity, Equity and Social Change (IDEAS) in partnership with New Student and Transition Programs

“Higher education is not only an intellectual playground but a playground where we can learn and apply what we’re learning. That’s the privilege that higher education offers.”

Michael Benitez Jr., vice president of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at Metropolitan State University of Denver

Michael Benitez at a lectern

Benitez reminded students of their responsibility to create change.

During his presentation, Benitez defined key terms that come up in discussions of diversity, equity, and inclusion, including structural racism, privilege, white supremacy, and Critical Race Theory. He also encouraged attendees to be aware of their own identities.

Benitez reminded the attendees that they have a responsibility to make change in the Ithaca College community, as they can have an incredible impact on the community during their time on campus.

“Higher education is not only an intellectual playground but a playground where we can learn and apply what we’re learning,” he said. “That’s the privilege that higher education offers.”

The event also provided an opportunity for students to give feedback. Benitez asked the audience what would make IC more comfortable for them, and students responded with ideas to increase diversity in staff and increase accessibility for students with disabilities. The audience was so engaged that the discussion continued for nearly an hour after his talk ended.

For Angélica Carrington, director of the Center for IDEAS, this event series is a valuable opportunity for students to educate themselves about diversity and inclusion.

“We can’t just do one and be done; that’s why we have several speakers coming this year,” Carrington said. “This work is important. It’s important to learners in the classroom and it’s also important to learn it and how to apply it outside the classroom.”

“College is a place for ideas, and we need to be able to create spaces in which meaningful, yet sometimes difficult conversations can occur around topics such as diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. Events such as this are reflective of us living our values.”

Ithaca College President La Jerne Terry Cornish

The series is also an example of the college’s strategic plan goal of being a national model for colleges committed to the values of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.

“College is a place for ideas, and we need to be able to create spaces in which meaningful, yet sometimes difficult conversations can occur around topics such as diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging,” said Ithaca College President La Jerne Terry Cornish. “Events such as this are reflective of us living our values.

“I hope students get additional tools to use when engaging with people who are different from themselves and advocating for people who need it most,” she added. “And it is my hope that they recognize their own agency in disrupting and dismantling racism.”

More events in the Day of Learning series will occur throughout the semester, focusing on different centers around campus such as the Center for LGBT Education, Outreach, and Services, Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, and First-Generation Center.

“We would love to see continued engagement,” Carrington said. “Hopefully, students attend more of our events, whether they identify with those centers or just go to learn.”