It’s Diversity Week! UniSC social work student Bailey Wemyss shares zir experience being part of various minority groups, and challenges UniSC students, staff and community to take stock of their biases.
Gandhi said that “our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilisation” (Young India, Jan 8, 1925). Nearly 100 years later, I wonder if civilisation has come as far as he might have hoped.
A journey to make a difference at UniSC
My name is Bailey, and I am a first-year student studying a Bachelor of Social Work. I am a firm believer in human rights for all people, in all areas of our lives. Minority groups continually have their human rights eroded, if they’re ever given them at all, and making a difference to change the cultures and systems that allow this to occur, is going to be a long journey.
I started that journey to make a difference here at UniSC. This year, I became a Student Leader and Student Volunteer, and when I saw a gap in the Student Senate where disability representation should have been, I filled it with the Disability and Inclusion Group. Additionally, I am the Undergraduate Representative for the Disability and Inclusion Action Plan.
Facing trauma, adversity, and discrimination every day
My human rights focus at USC thus far may be on disability, but I am a member of all the main (and quite a few of the other) minority groups. Cultural heritage, gender, sexual preference, physical ability, physical health, mental health, religion, socio-economic status, and even my size – these are all areas where I am seen as diverse, and I face trauma, adversity, and discrimination. I face this every day on campus, in our community, and even in my own home.
Acknowledge your biases and challenge them
I dream of the day where this diversity among us, the things that make us different, are no longer used to make some of us feel less than. We need to work to change our communities and that change can start at UniSC. We can help do this with a few individual actions. Take stock of your biases. Acknowledge them. Challenge them. Accept them for what they are. Stop pretending they don’t exist – we all have them, and that is ok, but stop allowing them to direct your actions. None of us can help that first thought that pops into our head, but we can all control our actions afterward.
For the more nuanced interactions with people, understand that it’s ok to get it wrong. It’s ok to accidentally say the wrong thing. We all do. Acknowledge your mistake and apologise and learn to do better in future. These small steps can make such a huge difference in the life of someone who is already fighting systemic and institutional bias and discrimination.
Express yourself and celebrate YOUR own diversity
Diversity isn’t something that I read about, or study – it’s who I am. It’s where I live. And in my case, it’s often completely obvious. However, I acknowledge that the diversity of others is not always so apparent to the general community.
Diversity Week for me then, is also a chance to give space to everyone to celebrate their own diversity. YOUR own diversity. In a sea of people walking, my wheelchair is a recognisable and undeniable show of diversity, but it is our personalities that separate us more than anything else. We are, each of us, unique. We are, each of us, beautiful and a gift to the world. I would like to invite the wonderfully diverse community at UniSC to take the time to express that of yourselves which you are willing to share, in whichever way you are willing to share it.
I encourage all faculty, staff, and students at USC to celebrate their own diversity during Diversity Week, and to learn more about the diversity of others. I encourage USC to ensure that those who see their diversity displayed within minority groups, are given inclusive representation in our curriculum, as well as given the opportunity to rise into leadership roles. Segregation is embedded in our culture. We need to stop allowing that to be something we ignore.
Gandhi foresaw the possibility of a world in which we are all united, regardless of difference. I like to imagine that one day, his vision will come true.
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