BSU Hosts Diversity & Inclusion Conference Amid Political Turmoil 

click to enlarge Risha Grant was the keynote speaker at the fifth-annual Diversity & Inclusion Conference at Boise State University.

Lauren Berry

Risha Grant was the keynote speaker at the fifth-annual Diversity & Inclusion Conference at Boise State University.

Some legislative conservatives have called Boise State University's diversity and inclusion efforts not "the Idaho way," but at the fifth-annual Diversity & Inclusion Conference on campus, those efforts were painted as a solution, not the problem.

"Diversity is not a problem: People are the problem," said keynote speaker and consultant Risha Grant in her speech.

The conference, which took place on Oct. 8, offered the latest in issues relating to the topics of race, gender, mental health and respectful workplaces—and how conversations surrounding those topics can strengthen communities. Grant spoke on inclusivity and welcoming differences, sharing her personal experiences with discrimination and working through her own biases.

The event took place in the shadow of controversy. In recent months, some Idaho legislative Republicans have raised concerns about the school's diversity and inclusion efforts, saying they are expensive and contrary to Idaho values. Those efforts include the Black and Rainbow graduations, the Pow Wow and fellowships for minority students. After learning the university has gender-neutral restrooms supplied with feminine hygiene products, two legislators said they'd to defund like Boise State.

For Boise State Student Diversity and Inclusion Director Francisco Salinas, the sturm und drang is proof of the importance of the university's programs, many of which are funded with grant money.

"The context has been different every year. I think this particular context has really put in pretty stark belief how important this discussion is for our future that Idaho wants to choose,” said Salinas. “The fact of the matter is, we all have a part in that conversation of what is the 'Idaho way.'"

Speaker and student Hanna Suman of The Inclusive Excellence Student Council at Boise State explained just how important these programs are around campus. She ought to know: the IESC reviews Boise State policies to ensure all voices are heard in decision-making.

“Without these programs, Boise State University would be missing out on ideas and viewpoints, which would have a huge negative impact,” said Suman.

Gabrielle Davis, a member of the LGBTQ community at Boise State and member of a Diversity & Inclusion Conference panel, also defended the school's efforts and challenged their critics' view that they run contrary to Idaho values.

"Just because their reality may seem normal, it may not be someone else's reality, Davis said. "Inclusion is more important than diversity."

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