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Learning outside the box

BY EMILY MELVOLD | APRIL 16, 2009 7:34 AM

After entering the makeshift mosque, the men wandered to the front of the worship area, and the women crowded in the back of the room.

During the mock prayer service, UI students were asked to remove their shoes, put on traditional Islamic attire, and bow to the ground in worship.

The demonstration was a part of Wednesday’s “Boxes and Walls” event — sponsored by the UI Office of Residence Life — which aimed to increase awareness and knowledge about diversity.
In the basement of Burge Hall, volunteers constructed temporary walls plastered with colorful paper and information on three subcategories: hate crimes, socioeconomic situations, and religion.

The event’s planners chose those subsections because of their prevalence in college students’ daily lives, said Stephanie Preschel, a graduate assistant in Residence Life who helped plan the event.

“The idea behind the name is that you’re breaking down boxes and overcoming walls,” the 22-year-old said. “The boxes and walls refer to things such as stereotypes, biases, learning new information, and becoming aware of diversity.”



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Volunteer tour guides led groups of 10 to 15 people every 15 minutes through the nine-room tour to learn and experience the issues surrounding diversity. Every tour was full starting at 3 p.m., with the last one leaving at 9:15 p.m.

While most attendees were UI students, Preschel said, she also saw members of the community attend the diversity initiative.

“It’s important for everyone — not just college students,” she said.

Residence Life has hosted the “Boxes and Walls” event in the past, although it was unable to last year after losing its space during the construction on Burge Hall.

“We’re hoping we’ve brought it back, and it will be here for years to come,” Preschel said.

Roughly 50 students and faculty members helped plan and set up the event. Volunteers did everything from acting out a part on the tour to working the check-in desk.

UI junior Miguel Cajipe, who helped set up the tour’s hate crimes section, said the event was important to educate students about issues regarding diversity on campus.

“It makes you realize there are bigger things out there than yourself,” the 23-year-old said.

After the tour, participants went into conference rooms to discuss the experience with a counselor from University Counseling Service.

“I’ve been struck by the fact that a lot of folks have been challenged in particularly by their religion,” Hillcrest coordinator Ben Parks said. “That’s something that has stood out to me as being ‘processed’ in several groups today.”

Event planners were pleased with the turn out and reception of the program.

“Sometimes it’s just a matter of looking at situations from a different perspective that you hadn’t thought about,” Preschel said.


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