Not in Our Town to increase visibility

Campus Editor and Campus Editor

While most students were absent from campus this summer, University and city members of Not in Our Town planned ways to continue the campaign’s momentum as it bridges semesters.

This campaign to promote diversity and inclusiveness was originally slated to begin this fall, but a string of incidents spurred the University to jumpstart it this past spring semester, said Emily Monago, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs.

Most notably, in April, several University students tweeted racially-charged messages directed toward the black community during a gathering at a local bar. This prompted the University to release a statement and host two panels in addition to imposing sanctions on the students in accordance with the student code of conduct.

Now through several initiatives, the University and city are collaborating to keep the campaign at the forefront of the community’s consciousness.

“We’re really working hard to get these conversations going … and make them part of the ongoing discussion we’re having with students,” Monago said.

The main push is to keep both the banner and pledge cards visible for anyone to sign, Monago said. These have become a symbol of the grassroots movement and a way for people to affirm their support, she said.

“Everywhere that Not in Our Town goes, you can expect to see that banner,” said senior Kevin Lewis, the president of the Black Student Union.

BSU has been a main player since the campaign’s conception, something that Lewis wants to see continue.

“We really want to let people know our organization is a Not in Our Town Organization,” he said.

Also on the agenda for this semester, the Office of Multicultural Affairs has incorporated NIOT into a variety of programming, and even a class at the University.

To introduce the freshmen to the campaign, there was a discussion about NIOT during the Multicultural Affairs, SMART and TRIO Programs breakout sessions during New Student Orientation. Events such as the Welcome Back Cookout, the Big Gay Picnic, NCBI workshops, Black Issues Conference, Latino Issues Conference will also have a NIOT element.

The office will integrate NIOT information into UNIV 1510, a multicultural development seminar. NIOT will also have a presence at Campus Fest on Sept. 12.

“We need to get more information out there, especially with the incoming students,” Monago said.

Not in Our Town is a national campaign launched in 1995 as a result of a PBS documentary that highlighted the efforts of Billings, Montana citizens who stood up for their neighbors after a series of hate crimes, according to bgsu.edu/notinourtown.

Its presence at the University is relatively unique, Monago said. Other universities with the campaign include the University of Mississippi, Indiana University in Bloomington and the University of Virginia.

At the University, Not in Our Town is a subcommittee of the President’s Advisory Council for Diversity and Inclusion [PACODI], which is chaired by Chief Diversity Officer Barbara Waddell. NIOT itself, which will be chaired by a city and University representative, has three subcommittees within it: education, programming and events, chaired by Tobias Spears, assistant director of LGBT programs; developing momentum, co-chaired by Casey Swick and Margaret Montague of the city’s Human Relations Commission; and marketing and advocacy, chaired by Ray Plaza, associate director of Office of Multicultural Affairs.

Barbara Keller, the past chair of the Human Relations Commission and a PACODI member, is a possible appointee for NIOT co-chair along with Equity Officer Vicky Kulicke, who introduced the idea for the campaign a year ago.

Of course, the campaign spans into the city as well, as these issues effect everybody, Keller said.

“Anything that addresses the issue of diversity and inclusion is something the University and the city need to be working on,” she said. “The community and University need to be on the same page.”

Members of the “developing momentum” committee are interviewing a number of people from different sectors of the city, said Montague, the co-chair for the committee.

Representatives from the media, schools and businesses have all given their feedback on what they want from the campaign, she said.

“We’re really at the point of determining the best way forward … in the community,” Montague said.

Notably, the city police have agreed to put NIOT decals on their cruisers, she said.

A similar initiative may happen with the campus police, Monago said.

But all seem to agree, in the end it’s all about promoting cross-cultural dialogue and understanding.

“I think my ultimate goal for the campaign is to really create that environment where we’re supportive and inclusive of different identities that work in the city and live on our campus,” Monago said.

And the consensus is that it will be hard for the campaign to fizzle now.

“It will be really hard to lose momentum because there are so many different people dedicated to pushing it forward,” Lewis said. “We’re working hard to keep that flame going.”