The Diversity Awareness DA House is one of the longest-running honor houses on campus. For nearly twenty years, the DA House has attempted to introduce conversations about diversity and tolerance to the St. Olaf College community.
Located in Huggenvik House, directly across the street from President David Anderson’s house, the DA House is home to a collection of students who identify with different nationalities, religions, classes and races. That list only begins to address the ways in which the house members recognize diversity. House member Sheridan Blanford ’15 talked about the new ways house members will tackle the difficult job of evoking thought and conversation about diversity on campus and in the world.
“We are trying to shift the meaning of diversity from the color of your skin to all the things that make you unique,” Blanford said.
According to Blanford, there is a stigma on campus that the issue of diversity is “only meant for people of color,” and that stigma is the reason behind the changes in this long running program. By building the house’s mission on uniqueness, members hope to get a larger group of students and faculty involved in the diversity conversation at St. Olaf because everyone is affected by the issue of diversity.
One of the DA House presidents, GT Maskalo ’14, sees a “misunderstanding about what diversity truly means” in the St. Olaf population.
“Diversity can mean so many things to different people”, Maskalo said. Each member of the house has their own individual definition of diversity, and that works because diversity of opinion “contributes to the uniqueness of gifts we bring to the community and to the conversation [about diversity],” he said.
Conversation is the cornerstone of the DA House’s vision for St. Olaf. House members believe that open conversations about the place of diversity in our college’s community will increase tolerance and knowledge of the world, which are two qualities that St. Olaf strives to instill in its students.
The first DA House event this year was on Sunday, Nov. 3. The members hosted a Diversity Dinner and Discussion on the topic of race and class relations. Around 20 people were in attendance, including two professors. Sharon Lane-Getaz, professor of statistics, was asked to lead discussion on what could be considered a sensitive and controversial topic: diversity at St. Olaf. Professor Lane-Getaz has been facilitating workshops similar to event on Sunday night with many different groups in the area for about a year.
Those who attended the dinner were asked to answer a series of questions and identify their places in a class hierarchy. The group identified several strengths and weaknesses associated with ther classes. When everyone in attendance came together to share what they had discovered about class, there was no sense of judgment or nervousness in the group. This is the goal of the DA house; the members aim to create an atmosphere in which people are able to talk openly about experiences they have in common and experiences that are unique.
The dinner discussion put into action the mission articulated by Blanford and Maskalo. The dinner not only provoked thought about the meaning of diversity, but also successfully brought a diverse group of people together to have a conversation.
According to Blanford and Maskalo, more conversations and gatherings such as this one will bring a stronger sense of community and acceptance of differences to the St. Olaf campus. Throughout the year, the student body can expect events focused on the wide variety of passions found among DA House members.