Kutztown University hosted its second annual Unity Day on Aug. 30, during the Community Link Fair that brings together Kutztown area businesses and organizations with the campus community.
“A word, so powerful, so meaningful, yet so simple. That word, unity,” said Dr. Donavan McCargo, KU Assistant Vice President and Dean of Students. “Today, we pause to embrace a deeper understanding of what unity means from an array of perspectives… to reflect on what unity means to you and how you make a difference here in this community and beyond.”
KU's freshman class represents a large increase in cultural diversity on the KU campus with 23 percent of students being diverse. Kutztown had an 11 percent diversity rate among its student body as a whole in 2009 and is now, as of Aug. 1, at 21 percent in 2018, according to University Relations.
McCargo said respect is part of the unity framework and a community thrives when people show respect, kindness, generosity and care toward one another.
“Respect is critical to how we make people feel and how we make other people feel embraced. Respect is the notion that we understand and appreciate the differences of others without compromising their safety or wellbeing,” he said. “Respect is turning a blind eye to color, to race, ethnicity or gender. Respect is what is critical to our humanity.”
KU President Dr. Kenneth Hawkinson welcomed the crowd of KU students, faculty, staff and Kutztown area community members gathered under the hot sun at Schaeffer Lawn.
“As we begin a new year, as a community we must renew our commitment to our values. Our University rejects all forms of racism, bigotry and discrimination,” he said. “I hope that our unity will serve as an example of how good people can come together to support a common cause, to serve as an inspiration to others, that strength indeed comes from being unified in our message.”
The Bias Response Task Force, consisting of faculty, staff, student leaders and community leaders and under the leadership of McCargo, establishes protocols on how to respond to speech and actions that may fall outside KU’s values.
“We must be vigilant and ensure we all treat each other with respect and dignity,” he said. “All individuals on a college campus should have the right to express their thoughts and feelings freely but these thoughts and feelings should be expressed with a sensitivity that shows respect and consideration for others. We must be kind to each other in word and deed. Your presence here today shows your commitment to unity.”
Beth Patten, chair of Peace. Love. Kutztown, said, “We are going to stop hate together. How can you join in our fight for peace and love in Kutztown? You can participate in our quiet revolution by going to events like this.”
Patten encouraged people to attend Unity Day at Renninger’s Market in Kutztown on Sept. 7 and 8 which includes a color run at 9 a.m. Saturday. Attendees will attempt to break the world record water balloon toss at 2 p.m. on Sept. 8. She also encouraged attendees to visit the Kutztown Community Partnership to unify the community by volunteering.
KU Student Government Board President Braden Hudak, a LGBT member, said KU’s campus consists of people from all different walks of life and they all stand together united by the KU mission to prepare students to meet lifelong intellectual, ethical, social and career challenges.
“We can all be ourselves here, students, faculty and staff,” said Hudak. “Spread kindness across the campus and do not forget to spread kindness to the members of the Kutztown community… do the most you can do to make someone else feel like they belong.”
Leanne Strauss of the Veterans Services Center, said, “When more individuals come together, the end goal can be reached with additional power, courage, confidence and efficiency. It’s like the saying, ‘United we stand, divided we fall.’ Now imagine a world where people saw eye to eye, that would open up a world of possibilities and greater chance for change. To me, that makes unity important.”
University Senate President Dr. Andy Arnold, professor and history department chair, said, “We help to compassionately lift people from good to great and from great to fantastic… We’re all teachers, we’re all learners here. It’s good to be golden. I love this place.”
KU students Cara McLain and Stevens Garzon, the Diversity Council Chair and Vice Chair, also shared their experiences at KU and what unity means to them.
“I’ve been able to see the good and evil in many things. When I first came here I thought that politics were the most evil thing in the world,” said McLain. “I ended up loving my political science class.”
McLain changed her major to political science and now she cannot wait to graduate with a degree in political science from KU in the spring.
“Remember we just have to reflect and see the world in scales of gray and learn to see with eyes unclouded by hate,” said McLain.
Garzon wants the Diversity Council to be responsive to issues, to make everyone feel welcome, happy and at peace at KU. He encouraged everyone to step out of their comfort zone and get involved, try to make a difference and embrace each other with open arms.
“Let us strive to make Unity Day not just today but every day,” said Garzon.