LONG BEACH, MS (WLOX) - USM Gulf Park is dedicating this week to promoting awareness and respect for people of different races, cultures, and sexual preferences. This is the first time that the Long Beach campus is hosting Diversity Week. The hope is to change students' views about others and themselves.
Understanding people's different personality types was the topic of a Lunch and Learn session Monday. It was the first of many activities aimed at promoting Diversity Week at USM Gulf Park.
"It's so important for students to know they have advocates and they have other students that are just like them here on campus that are accepting of their cultures and are accepting of their personalities and differences here," said USM Student Affairs Director Christy Elias.
Rebecca Bickett knows all about being different and the struggle against negative comments and stereotypes while growing up. The USM junior is a lesbian.
"There was a lot more concern as far as safety and different people's opinions of how gay people are, but it all comes down to how you view yourself," said Bickett.
Bickett and her partner are fighting for equality in a high-profile case before the state Supreme Court. They are among the plaintiffs who are suing to overturn Mississippi's ban on same-sex marriage.
"There is no us and them. We're all the same and being able to publicly show we're just a family, we're just human beings wanting to live our lives and be happy," she said.
Bickett plans to attend a session on Tuesday that focuses on issues affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students. The event includes a panel discussion, and a screening of the documentary "Deep South," which delves into the lives of people living with HIV in rural America.
"People need to realize that we do have LGBT people in our community, and very small things can make a big difference in how comfortable these students are, and that helps us in terms of recruiting students and making sure they graduate," said Dr. Douglas Bristol, a History professor and faculty advisor for the "Alliance for Equality" student organization.
By raising awareness of people's differences, USM believes it can foster greater acceptance and respect among students, faculty and staff.
"We want to educate the students on the importance of what that means to them, and to use what they learned this week to be better students, better community members," said Elias.
Wednesday's sessions will focus on issues affecting women. On Thursday, the Indian Student Association will offer free Henna tattoos, and students can explore opportunities to study abroad.