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Celebrating Diversity at RMU

When I was growing up, I didn’t give much thought to diversity. Sitting behind my desk in Catholic school, my mind was occupied with doodling elaborate outer-space battle scenes in my loose-leaf notebooks. When I did occasionally pick up my head to scan the classroom, I’d see twenty or so white kids – some of them also drawing, some of them dozing off, and maybe one or two teacher’s pets actually paying attention to Sr. Margaret.

A diverse group, we were not. We were all from the same county, the same state, the same country. We were all Catholic, and we were all Caucasian. During my eight years there, we only had one African American student – a boy named Maurice – who was only there for half of my second-grade year. But again, this was normal to us. We didn’t know any better. We didn’t understand why diversity was important, and frankly, we didn’t care. We just wanted 3 o’clock to come.

When I entered public high school, diversity was suddenly thrust upon me. Now the classroom was filled with kids from various backgrounds. At first it was a little intimidating. In no time at all, however, the strangeness wore off, and I had an entirely new idea of what was normal. Soon, I had African American friends, Asian friends, Hispanic friends, Jewish friends, Protestant friends, Methodist friends…and it was wonderful.

The diversity I encountered in high school opened my eyes to the world and helped me see it in an entirely new way. By the time I reached college, instead of being surprised by diversity, I was surprised if my classes lacked it. Diversity had become the norm rather than the exception.

Here at RMU, we’re lucky to have an incredibly diverse student and faculty population. Just a couple days ago, I attended the first installment of the Diversity Speaker Series, organized by Paul Spradley, assistant director of student life for multicultural affairs. Around 60 people gathered in the Rogal Chapel to hear the first guest speaker, Saleem Ghubril. Ghubril, who was born in Beirut, Lebanon, fled to the United States with his family when civil war broke out in his country in the mid-1970s.

Ghubril embodies everything that is good about diversity. In addition to being the executive director of the Pittsburgh Promise, this Asian-African-Arab-American is also an ordained minister who is committed to serving the community and bringing people together. “I am the world!” he said.

During his talk, Ghubril spoke of how much the world has changed for the better over the years in terms of racial and ethnic tolerance. He also spoke of the many challenges we still face today. As I listened to him speak of diversity with passion and youthful exuberance, I noticed the diverse audience that had gathered to hear him speak, and it warmed my heart.

RMU’s diversity is something to be celebrated. The many cultures and backgrounds that make up this university help to teach us tolerance and understanding, and it gives us all a global perspective. And in an ever-shrinking world, few things are as valuable.

– Valentine J. Brkich

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