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Communities unite at 15th annual campus event

April 24, 2008

A lot has changed at UW-River Falls over the last 15 years. Droves of new students have come and gone, and a new state-of-the-art University Center now stands in the same spot where five years ago, students and faculty walked the halls of the old Ames building. One constant, however, has remained: an institution serving the campus community every year since its induction.

Unity in the Community day started in 1993, although its roots date back a year earlier to 1992 when a white UWRF student decided to write “KKK” in masking tape on the residence hall door of some African-American students. Multicultural Services Advisor Linda Alvarez said she recalls what happened that day.

“When [former UWRF] Chancellor [Gary A.] Thibodeau heard about it that same day, he said, ‘we will simply not tolerate bias and hate speech on this campus,’” Alvarez said.

Thibodeau wanted it known that UW-River Falls was as an institution where all students could achieve their maximum in a welcoming, safe environment, Alvarez said.

Alvarez said that over 600 students met the next evening at various places around campus to discuss strategies to increase diversity awareness on campus. At a huge follow-up gathering, a young African American student named Curtis Bickham gave an impassioned speech and ended it by saying that ‘we must have unity in our community.’ Everyone cheered his sentiments and thus the first Unity in the Community was initiated.

“[Chancellor Thibodeau’s] words are as true today as they were then,” Alvarez said. “We gather with the River Falls city community to reaffirm our belief that this is a safe, inclusive and welcoming place for all.”

Wednesday marked the 2008 version of Unity in the Community. Hundreds of people, including UWRF students and faculty, gathered throughout the day on the University Center mall to enjoy food and festivities. The on-campus portion of the event began at 10 a.m. and ran until 2 p.m., while the community event took place at 5:30 p.m. at Veteran’s Park in downtown River Falls.

Students and faculty attending the campus event were treated to a wide variety of cultural and ethnic related activities including break dance and other diverse dance performances, a poetry recital, a Pow Wow presented by the St. Croix Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin and a jazz performance by the UWRF Jazz Ensemble.

Karyn Wells is in her second year as UWRF Event Coordinator and said the event is one of the most anticipated of the year because it’s for everyone.

“It’s an opportunity to celebrate our differences on campus and share with each other bits of our own background,” Wells said.

This year’s event was sponsored by the Diversity Awareness Committee (DAC), which has been busy planning since September.

“The committee spent hours discussing ideas for this year’s Unity,” DAC Chair Brad Kerschner said.

Along with the performances, the event featured a wide array of different activities for students and faculty to take part in. Different student organizations also set up tables and distributed information for people who attended.

While the event didn’t go exactly as planned, it still ran smoothly and served its purpose.

“I think Unity was very successful,” Kerschner said. “You just need to accept that things will go differently, … it was a relaxed and fun day.”