Rider’s annual Unity Day celebrates diversity and inclusion

By Tori Pender

Rider’s 23rd annual Unity Day returned in person to celebrate diversity on campus and was held in the Cavalla Room located in the Bart Luedeke Center on Oct. 11. 

The event was sponsored by The Multicultural Studies Program under the directorship of English professor and Director of The Multicultural Studies Program Pearlie Peters. 

The event included three student roundtable discussions, Amita Mehta, a keynote speaker, and the announcement of the 2020 Winner of the John Lewis Student Essay Award and the Social Action Project Award in Multicultural Studies.

In her opening statement, Peters said, “Rider University has taken time out to celebrate campus unity through diversity. The day is designed to stress how cultural diversity contributes to the unity and cohesion of our university campus.” 

The 2020 winner of the John Lewis Student Essay award and the Social Action Project award went to former Rider student Miranda Wilkins for creating a change project highlighting additional emergency cash resources for students who are on financial aid.

T. Missy Balmir, a Rider alumna and Director of Through Planning-Plan to Win, was the first speaker of Unity Day, she discussed the topics of inclusion and equity at college and in the workforce.

Frank Rusciano, political science professor and director of the global studies program, described Balmir as someone, “who was instrumental in the formation of the multicultural studies program. As a matter of fact, if the multicultural studies program had another name, it would be the T. Missy Balmir program.”

Balmir helped co-create the multicultural studies program in 1998, by using what sh calls “her authority as a student.

The Brooklyn native explained that Rider taught her three very important things fo the job force: her authority, how to use it and when to push for what you want.

The theme of this year’s Unity Day was the erosion of trust and the motivation to change. Every section closed with a Q&A, allowing students and faculty to engage in further conversation.

The student roundtable panels covered the topics of Diversifying the Rider Dollar, Avoiding the Erosion of Trust: Allies and Mentors and COVID: The Rider Student Experience during the pandemic.

Diversifying the Rider Dollar was hosted by junior political science major Andrew Bernstein, vice president for university affairs, Student Government Association (SGA).

Bernstein said, “Increasing diversity and inclusion not only addresses problems with internal bias, but it also helps with preparing students to be successful in a diversifying workforce.”

The roundtable focused on whether Rider should have a required diversity course.

Student voices echoed each other in favor of a required course or a highly recommended course on race, sexuality and disability.

Others expressed concern about adding another required course, especially when many students are overworked.

The other two student panels touched on allyship and student experiences hosted by SGA members junior business analytics major Noah Bernstein, senior criminal justice major Athena Skirianos and senior computer science Elizabeth O’Hara.

Unity Day concluded with Amita Mehta, Founder of AMP Consulting and AMP Amita Mehta Possible, a Certified Minority and LGBTQ Owned Business, to talk about “People’s Voices Count: The Dream of Change.”

An overarching theme of this event was that all students have power and can make a change at Rider.

Balmir said, “Don’t be afraid of the good trouble. Particularly in an education environment, they will tell you they want you to be vocal but only about the things that make them feel conformable. Be vocal about the things that are important to you.”

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