Mercer’s ‘Diversity Day’ aims to foster cultural appreciation

Mercer University established its Office of Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives in late 2019 “to cultivate a holistic learning environment dedicated to diversity and inclusion in an ever-evolving global society,” according to its website.

To Geneis Crimé, a junior at Mercer who is Puerto Rican and Dominican, the gesture was long overdue.

Mercer junior, Geneis Crimé, plans to share her culture on Diversity Day by performing a Puerto Rican dance, in traditional clothing while singing in Spanish. She will also participate in the fashion show. (Courtesy Geneis Crimé)

“I feel a little bit discouraged that it came so late,” Crimé said. “The fact that it’s here within the time that I’ve been at school here is very surprising to me because I feel like that’s such an important thing that it should have been there at the foundation.”

Crimé said Mercer’s approach to diversity has historically reflected a tolerance mindset: being “okay” with diversity but not fully appreciating those differences. That’s one reason she chose to get involved in Diversity Day.

Diversity Day, sponsored by Mercer’s Minority Mentors Program and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives, is set to take place April 13 on Cruz Plaza.

The event will provide opportunities for cultural student organizations to share information about the backgrounds they represent as well as a student fashion show, a local DJ and a pan-African drum performance from a Macon studio. Locally-operated food trucks will also offer cultural cuisine to attendees for free.

According to Dr. Ansley Booker, director of Mercer’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives, Diversity Day will contribute to greater cultural appreciation among students and faculty by showcasing the range of identities on campus. 

Many students grew up in homogenous communities where they were not exposed to people of races, genders, sexualities, religious traditions, and other identities different from their own, she said. This kind of environment can cause a person to develop unconscious prejudice — the idea that unfamiliar cultures are intimidating, odd, or unimportant.

Diversity Day will offer a chance for attendees to begin unpacking their unconscious prejudices by demonstrating the diversity on campus in a positive light.

“You have to make sure that we are aware first and that we move to a space of appreciation,” Booker said. “Especially when we have so much division in our nation and our outside community, I think it’s very important for us to be able to celebrate and appreciate and to love on and to uplift and magnify not only these individual students; we need student organizations, because again, sometimes these student organizations are what holds the university together.”

Courtesy Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives

Crimé, a member of the Spanish Club, plans to represent Puerto Rico at Diversity Day. She’ll perform the “bomba y plena,” a Puerto Rican dance, in traditional clothing while singing in Spanish. She will also participate in the fashion show.

“Being able to witness it in a way that it’s celebrated is really important for people to see on a personal level, rather than just hearing about it during a history lesson or social media,” she said. “Seeing it for yourself, I think, is a different experience than just being told about someone’s culture, and it makes you respect it a little bit more.”

Personally, she said honoring her background is a way of honoring her family.

“I’ve always been someone who has really appreciated where I come from because it wasn’t easy to get where we are now,” she said. “I’m just very proud of it.”

Crimé also said members of the Mercer community should be open to new perspectives.

“We are living in the same world and we are using the same resources,” she said. “We have to be okay with one another, and we have to be (supportive) if we want to get anywhere.”

Expanding your worldview to include a range of cultures doesn’t end with attending events like Diversity Day, Booker said, although it can be a good starting place. 

Booker encouraged students to consider taking courses in fields like Africana Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies, and Asian Studies, to support organizations that represent cultures different from their own, and to seek existing resources meant to educate people about diversity.

One existing resource is a student-run podcast through the Office of Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives called “Mercer Mondays.” Another is Booker’s Social Justice Book Club.

The podcast features Booker and students in conversation about diversity and inclusion on campus and is available on major podcast platforms. The Book Club meets via Zoom and is open to students, faculty, staff, and members of the local community who want to engage in diversity topics through reading and discussing relevant texts.

“It’s not going to be all fixed in one day. It has to be multifactorial,” Booker said. “Even just being a part of those communities and those clubs, I think, efforts like that are continual, and they’re intentional, and they’re long-lasting.”