Baha'i Association puts diversity on display at U. Nebraska
By Melanie Mensch
(U-WIRE) LINCOLN, Neb. -- In the midst of the recent racial storm against citizens of Middle Eastern descent, one group is offering a conference to promote understanding.
"Beyond Racism: Building Inter-Racial Equity and Understanding" offers a chance to air questions and concerns about diversity issues. The first-time conference, sponsored by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Baha'i Association and the Lincoln, Neb., Baha'i community, begins 7 p.m. Friday in the Nebraska Union with a panel discussion among university and community leaders. Continuing through Sunday, the conference offers workshops, a multicultural dance and four keynote speakers.
"Diversity is a strength to be valued," said Brian Lepard, law professor and adviser for the UNL Baha'i Association.
The organization held monthly meetings for diversity discussions during the last few years but felt "it was time to do something bigger," Lepard said.
"The monthly gatherings were a good start, but we wanted a more high-profile conference," he said. "This will help galvanize the community. Our main goal here is to encourage actions plans."
Steve Gonzales, an assistant law professor at the University of La Verne in Ontario, Calif., will address Latino stereotypes in his workshop at 4 p.m. Saturday. Students need to learn how to handle racial differences both professionally and personally, he said.
"The average college student faces a completely different world than their parents and even grandparents," he said. "Skills about getting along are important, both at work and in their social lives."
Lepard said he hopes the conference will inspire all students to "take action in their community" by including other races in their social circles or fighting against discrimination.
"Prejudice still does exist in subtle ways," he said. "Not a lot of people who aren't minorities realize that prejudice is alive and well, but minorities especially still perceive it in many ways."
Neda Molai, president of the UNL Baha'i Association, said she wants the conference to "build more cultural bridges."
"Our major goal is to build community on campus," the senior international business and management information systems major said.
The three-day conference costs $20 for students and $40 for faculty, but half-day and evening prices run $5 for students and $10 for faculty.
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