There’s a movement happening in Durant currently that everyone can participate and have a voice. Community leaders, business owners, students and citizens were all invited to participate in a very unique forum on Tuesday evening at Russell Hall on the Southeastern Oklahoma State University Campus.
The Community Diversity Forum was facilitated in the university’s efforts to take a more active approach when assisting students that attend SE. These students represent some 113 different countries from which they call home and now are part of the general population of the community and university at large. In their efforts to better serve the students, it became apparent that the program also had the potential to benefit the city overall, according to organizers of the event.
It became obvious in light of recent racially charged stories in the news that Durant would benefit by taking a pro-active stance in creating the forum to avoid a “Ferguson” type fall-out in our own backyard. Instead, the program serves to unite the community and as Durant Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Janet Reed said to “celebrate our differences.”
Tuesday’s forum represented a swath of area citizens and local business owners, working together toward a common goal with the students, city and university leaders. The forum then broke into three “breakout sessions” comprised of these individuals. Each group then received a “scenario” modeled after the popular television show “What Would You Do?” in which ethical and moral topics are put to the test with an unsuspecting participants to gauge the outcome and to determine what could be garnered from the scenario and what lessons could be taken from the experience. Following the sessions, all participants again re-united to discuss the situations presented to each group and their findings before a committee in which each member represents one of the many diversities that make up our community.
Tuesday’s panelists were from Bryan, Atoka and Coal Counties. The panelists were District Attorney Emily Redman, Atoka High School ladies basketball coach and former standout player at Southeastern, Coach Crystal Robinson; Bailiff for the 401st District Court for Collin County in Texas, Ralph Evans, and Chris Wesberry, executive director of the Native American Institute at Southeastern. Each served on the unique committee and contributed their own insight and experiences as movers and shakers within the community that are often faced with circumstances that the forum implanted for future reference.
Dr. Claire Stubblefield from Southeastern, who served as one of the program’s facilitators, said that the Diversity Forum is an idea whose time has come and the “time to share and to bring others into the fold, with the common goal to further educate, foster communication and to open those lines of conversation to keep the community active in this cause.” The program also enhances the fiber and fabric of the student experience as a whole.
Jason Sands, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Durant said that in using this approach and showcasing the diversity of Durant would shed light on the city’s resident retention efforts and to boost the numbers of residents moving to Durant and opting to stay here permanently. By focusing on these efforts, the project can better track the city’s diversity and utilize that information for economic development and growth. Simply by educating the city’s business and economic leaders prepares the city when inviting companies to find a place within the community as they see the fruits of the program’s labor put into action.
Reed said that it gives us the opportunity to examine ourselves and how we are all the same and yet different. We all worship and communicate, we all belong to a race but it is time to celebrate the differences and diversities that each one can bring to the table, Reed said.
SE President Sean Burrage who served as moderator for the evening, further relates that the forum also enhances the safety, welfare and education of both the students and citizens of Durant and that the doors of communication now opened have been an invaluable part of the learning process.
The forum has plans to continue the program to match the growth of the city and to ensure that the changing culture remains a topic of conversation so that guests and future citizens know that Durant welcomes diversity and celebrates all that is learned from our differences. Sands said it is simply understanding people on different levels and taking the time to get to know each other.
Contact Maria Moore-Kass at [email protected]