BY JACK PARKINSON
The positive power of cultural diversity was put on display last week at Conestoga College’s Doon campus.
Celebrate Cultural Diversity Week is a weeklong event occurring twice per school year at Doon, organized by the Student Life department. On Nov. 17 the opening ceremonies took place alongside the first day of events, which featured student displays of music, food, dance and technology from a host of countries and cultures around the globe.
The ceremonies started with music and dance performances from the Latin Ballroom Dance Club, and featured other performances such as Bollywood dancing and belly dancing.
There were a number of speakers at the ceremonies, including Alan Vaughan, vice-president of enrolment management and international education at the college. Vaughan said the college’s international student population has increased from 450 in 2009 to more than 1,100 in 2014, with students attending from more than 65 countries. He spoke highly of the positive effect that a diverse range of cultures has on a campus.
“You can see the improvement (cultural diversity) makes when you walk across any campus,” he said.
The ceremonies concluded with a speech delivered by Myeengun Henry, manager of Aboriginal Student Services. Henry emphasized Canada’s history of cultural diversity, which he said can be traced back to the First Nations and their reactions to early European colonists. Afterwards, Henry said an aboriginal prayer and two women from Aboriginal Student Services sang a traditional song.
Celebrate Cultural Diversity Week can trace its origins back to the Respect campaign at Conestoga, which started around 2008, according to Laura Black, who was appointed head organizer of the week last year. Over the years it has grown considerably and now has a 15-member committee dedicated to planning it, with representatives from services across the campus.
Black, who works with Student Development and Student Services, said balancing inclusivity is a tough job.
“With inclusion, you always have exclusion,” she said in an interview.
She also pointed out that Conestoga has many demographics of students beyond what people usually think of in terms of culture.
“We have mature students, students with children, students straight out of high school,” Black said.
Under-representation and over-representation are often brought up at committee meetings, Black said, and the Celebrate Cultural Diversity Week is still figuring out how to balance it perfectly. As an example, Black described the visual design of last year’s logo compared to this year’s. In 2013 the logo featured a design emphasizing flags, though it naturally couldn’t include every country involved in the week. This time the committee tried a new spin on the idea: a four-colour design, where each of the four colours is present on the flag of every country involved.
That sort of lateral thinking about inclusivity and diversity is an approach Black tried to bring to the special week when she was appointed to organize it.