What is diversity and inclusion? What does it mean to you?

Juliana Florez: Diversity is the uniqueness and creativity within each individual. It can be expressed in various ways, such as religion, race, ethnicity, skin color, sexuality or world views. Inclusion is what brings us all together to form an environment of acceptance and understanding. What it represents to me is the ability to express myself for who I truly am: an immigrant, a Latina, a person with chronic illness and a person who is determined to succeed. 

Dominique Corona: Diversity is the beauty in being surrounded by people from all walks of life. Inclusion is the unconditional acceptance of everyone. To me, diversity and inclusion mean safety. We need a safe place free of judgment in order to learn, grow and create meaningful bonds.

What successful initiatives has your school put in place to support a diverse student body on campus?

JF: I am a student from a low-income family living in an urban area with minimal opportunities. When my mom lost her job, I needed the support of community food banks. I can remember the embarrassment of paying for groceries with food stamps. Recently, the Student Government Association at Ramapo College in New Jersey was able to create a food pantry on campus. Now students at Ramapo have this tremendous community support to put food on their table. 

DC: The USC School of Dramatic Arts (SDA) created a strategic plan to integrate diversity in every aspect of the school. The Inclusion and Equity Committee is an amazing initiative that provides a platform for members of the SDA community to recognize and celebrate our identities and discuss issues of discrimination and lack of understanding for those in marginalized communities. 

The school also launched an Institute for Theatre and Social Change, which has created a space for people of all backgrounds to come together and explore the intersection of art and empowerment for communities that need to have their voices heard. Through performances, panels, art installations and conferences, incredible artists and activists from around the world are able to share their work and opinions on how we can heal the world.

In your experience, what are key factors that contribute to the success of students from diverse backgrounds?

JF: I believe what helps students of diverse backgrounds succeed are the relationships they create with faculty and dedicated staff. The mentorship and guidance I have received from my faculty and staff has had a tremendous impact on me academically, socially and personally. Many times, all a student needs is for someone to listen to them. I never had to worry about feeling alone because I had amazing individuals ready to help me and listen to my concerns. I could never thank them enough for their efforts to help me succeed and words of encouragement when I doubted myself. Without them, I would not be the leader I am today. 

DC: The first thing we need to succeed is understanding of the hidden struggles that those in marginalized communities must often fight through alone. While some of us may need scholarships or special accommodations, it doesn’t minimize the work we have done to get where we are. Each student is held to the same standards when it comes to admissions, and trying to erase our hard work by saying that we are only there to “fill a quota” is in no way valid or appropriate. Students and professors should never treat us differently.

The next thing we need is normalization of our existence. We are not attending the university for the sole purpose of educating those who do not belong to marginalized communities. We are not here to be exoticized or fetishized. Students of racial, sexual, religious and socio-economic minorities earned our spots, and we deserve the same education as our white cis-gender classmates. We are not marketing tools or brochure models.

We also need allies. We need students and professors who may not completely understand the experiences of marginalized students but who will help fight alongside us. We need to know that there are administrators who won’t stifle our voices when we need to fix an issue on a higher level.