HOUGHTON, Mich. (WJMN) – About one-percent of Michigan Technological University’s student population is Black.
“In sheer numbers, it’s about 71 students,” said Wayne Gersie, Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion, Michigan Technological University.
Wayne Gersie has been with Michigan Tech for about three months. He felt his mission blended well with what the university was looking for.
“So when I came to campus and I talked to some folks, primarily in executive leadership as well as the community, I really felt that there was a sense of commitment to the work for diversity, equity and inclusion and how were were going to go about moving forward together as a community so therefore I was in,” said Gersie. “I was persuaded to come here.”
Local 3 News asked Gersie what could be a common misconception a Black student might face on their campus.
“They don’t want to come to a snowy, rural place like Michigan Tech or Houghton or Hancock and I disagree with that,” said Gersie. “I feel that we continue to promote diversity, equity and inclusion and create a welcoming space for them that they’ll want to be here.”
Gersie says most students want a space that’s emotionally and physically safe.
“And part of it is through dialogue, developing a greater understanding,” said Gersie. “But more importantly, making a commitment in terms of our actions. We are really trying hard and going our best and we’re going to continue to do that so students feel that commitment and see that commitment as well as our other stake holders and making sure that everyone here feels that sense of belonging through our actions. So, specific things are related to relationship building and communication.”
When it comes to acceptance and making a change, Gersie says it takes willingness.
“To me, it’s fundamental to any interaction you have with someone who is different than you is willingness to learn and engage with them,” said Gersie. “There might be issues where there is differences but in having those communications, be willing to suspend the judgement. Listen to their story, let them tell their story. So, I call it actively listen to people telling their story and leaning into discomfort to get a greater understanding of their story and I think that if we can do that in a meaningful way, we’ll be able to develop empathy to understand each other better. So I think it’s essential to any conversation and any progress we make to any discourse there is, is to have empathy to try to understand where the other side is coming from and if we do that in a meaningful and respectful way, we can make progress and maybe somehow won’t have to have these conversations.”
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