Does being an ally mean calling out your family at this holiday season?

By: Darius Stewart and Ciara Pate
*Originally published in UMKC’s University News on November 20, 2019

The holiday season wouldn’t be complete without having to endure a sexist joke from your uncle or a racist remark from your grandma at family dinner. Even for those who are allies, it is often difficult to decide what to do when someone you’re close to makes such discriminatory remarks.

When it comes to situations like these, it’s important to remember that allyship doesn’t mean a thing if you don’t act upon it. Your actions (or lack thereof) will show if you’re a true ally or if you just want the moral high ground to say you are one.

Signing a board to promise to be an ally, similar to what’s been done at UMKC countless times, is a good place to start, but many people don’t understand what it truly means.

Allyship means caring for and being willing to protect underprivileged groups. Protect doesn’t have to mean physically guard someone, but rather guard their being, their existence and who they are.

It wasn’t until around the beginning of 2019 that I came out to my dad and several other family members as a bisexual woman. Even still, before I came out to them, I would call them out for their potentially homophobic comments. My step brother was raised in a small town with few minorities. At every holiday get-together, if there was ever anything that was an inconvenience to him, he would yell “That’s gay.” Even before I came out, this was something I would consistently call him out for, explaining why it was wrong and insensitive.

Not everything that is said has a negative connotation to a minority group, but it is still important to educate those who say these things to help impede their ignorance.

Things change from learning what’s wrong with what’s being done. If you don’t call out family and friends on their homophobic, racist, and/or sexist comments, then you are enabling their thoughts and opinions. If you’re not telling them it’s wrong, then you’re effectively telling them it’s right, whether you actually agree with them or not.

Freedom of speech does not free you from the consequences of that speech. In any case of saying something wrong, there’s usually consequences for what was said. Why shouldn’t that apply even within families?. It’s not OK to yell fire in a crowded movie theatre as a joke; why is it OK to make a joke out of someone’s existence?

Many older family members will say, “That’s the way I was raised,” but just because that’s the way you were raised doesn’t make it the right way, especially in today’s culture. If that’s your excuse, they everyone from that time raised in a similar manner would be like that, but there are countless people who have grown with our evolving society. It’s important to call out family members on their acts of discrimination, no matter how miniscule, because once they have an inch, they’ll take a whole mile.

In a similar manner to people thinking cigarettes are a gateway drug, a lack of accountability leads bigger problems when you don’t call your family members out on their acts of discrimination.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year: Reflecting on the Diversity of the December Holiday Season

Interfaith Peace Sign

By: Kim Kushner, Assistant Director of New Student and Family Programs

December is here and traditionally in the United States that means it is time for all things merry and jolly. December can be a joyful time, as there is a convergence of festivities and traditions to celebrate this “holiday season”. There also tends to be a heavy focus around Christmas as the pivotal religious holiday and cultural event. In a U.S. society where about 70% of the population identifies as Christian, and where a large focus centers on Christmas, how can we recognize and honor other religious and secular holidays that coexist? How do we create spaces, events, and policies that are sensitive to various identities, observances, and belief systems? This article aims to share a few ways we can reflect on this topic area, helping us move toward a more inclusive holiday season.


Review Interfaith Calendars when scheduling events, programs, and meetings. Online interfaith calendars are very helpful in learning about and accommodating holiday celebrations. Some holidays move each year. Some holidays begin at nightfall. Some holidays are celebrated on one day, while others may span multiple days or weeks. Looking ahead when planning major events, parties, class deadlines/exams, or meetings can help to avoid potential scheduling mishaps. Below is a list of interfaith calendar resources that highlight 2019 December dates and beyond:

  • Anti-Defamation League:
  • Harvard’s Pluralism Project:


Engage in respectful dialogue and seek clarity. Another way to build inclusivity through this holiday season is to “be curious, and ask respectful questions” (2019). According to The Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding (2019), the December season is an excellent time to raise awareness around topics of religious diversity. Asking what holiday greeting someone prefers, or if they have any holiday practices to be aware of is “one of the best ways to avoid misunderstandings and make sure that everyone feels included and respected”. Moreover, many holiday celebrations center on food. Being mindful of dietary needs and the significance of religious dietary restrictions (ex. fasting) can go a long way to express to someone that they are valued.


Recognize that not everyone celebrates. According to the Pew Research Religious Landscape Study (2019), 22.8% of Americans identify as “unaffiliated”, “atheist”, “agnostic”, or “nothing in particular”. This identification may mean that some do not celebrate holidays at all, while others may celebrate Christmas in a more “secular” manner. Moreover, some religions, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, do not celebrate holidays. Lastly, the December holidays may trigger stress or anxiety. Meinart (2018) writes that “people who are grieving, depressed, or otherwise dissatisfied with some aspect of their lives can find the holidays to be painful reminders of who or what they’re missing.” Thus, it is recommended to make holiday celebrations voluntary. There may be personal or religious reasons why someone chooses to not celebrate; space, events, and policies must be accessible and inclusive to address these needs as well.


Developing a greater awareness of the diversity of religious holidays and observances throughout the traditional “holiday season” can have significant benefits. There exists so much variation within and amongst traditions. December provides a vibrant foundation for continued education, advocacy, and outreach that can lead towards unity year round.




Keiserman, Kimberly. (2015, November 30). Teaching the Holidays: The December Dilemma. Retrieved from


Meinert, Dori. (2018, November/December). How to make holiday celebrations more inclusive.  Retrieved from


Pew Research Center. (2019). Religious landscape study. Retrieved from


Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding. (2019). The December dilemma. Retrieved from


New Year Reflections

By: Dr. Susan B. Wilson, Vice Chancellor of UMKC’s Division of Diversity and Inclusion

First and foremost, I want to thank everyone in the UMKC community who has been a part of our efforts to have a diverse and inclusive campus. Whether you attended an event, made a contribution, led a diversity initiative for faculty, or participated in diversity action planning—you are appreciated. Our goals in diversity and inclusion (D&I) could not have been accomplished without you.
We are fast approaching the New Year. For many, a new year often means reflecting on the past year. We often are thinking of new goals, new behaviors and changes we must make. A new year can mean a fresh start and new resolutions, and a time to celebrate our past successes.
Our UMKC community is something to be proud of in the care and concern we show. Yet from a D & I perspective, I hope that you consider how you can take one more step toward making our campus a place where everyone can thrive and succeed. It is important to reflect upon how a simple behavior–like smiling and saying hello—makes UMKC a better place. It’s helpful to think about how valuable it is to get to know a colleague who is different than you. What about a newcomer to UMKC? Do we invite them to lunch with the group, and otherwise make them feel welcome? Or do we allow them to fend for themselves? Can we make time to attend a D & I program, even if we think we are too busy? As hiring managers, do we hire faculty and staff who are just like us, or do we see value in a diversity of perspectives, skills and research?
These are just a few questions to ponder as the New Year comes. In the meantime, the Division of Diversity and Inclusion wishes you a holiday season that is fulfilling and joyful.

Start a New School Year With Belonging

By: Dr. Susan B. Wilson, Ph.D MBA, Vice Chancellor of the Division of Diversity and Inclusion

A new academic year begins again. Whether you are new to UMKC, or have been here for a while, a sense of belonging is important to living, working and learning at UMKC. No matter how independent, no one wants to feel like he or she is on an “island.”

What do we mean by “belonging?” Belonging means being accepted and included as a part of a group. Belonging is a basic human need, and without it we feel lonely and disconnected. Research shows that social connections and relationships with others is important to our health and wellbeing. When we have social support, we are able to feel that we are not alone in our struggles, and we have others with whom we can celebrate our successes.

Unfortunately, some of us pursue belonging by excluding others—creating “in” and “out” groups.  We follow a “birds of a feather flock together” mentality because it creates a comfort zone for us. We may not realize that our exclusion of others creates profound pain and discomfort that can have real consequences.

If you are a new student, faculty or staff member, the question is “how do a build a sense of belonging?” The first step involves reaching out to others and trying actively to get involved. If you don’t find the connections you are looking for at first, don’t give up. Find others with similar interests who have ideas about how you might plug into UMKC. Nurturing and maintaining new connections take work, but is well worth the effort.

Creating a sense of belonging means working on your acceptance of others. We don’t all have to agree, yet we can try to understand the perspectives of others. This step requires an open mind so that you can explore other perspectives that may not be your own. Accepting others means that you avoid attacking and blaming others because they think differently from you. Lastly, it is essential to not focus only on the differences of others. Instead, look for similarities’ in others who may be different, but with whom you have things in common.

If we’ve been at an organization for a long time, we sometimes underestimate the importance of connecting with new people. Remember what it was like for you to be new, and offer a warm welcome. Get involved in new ways that will energize you and bring energy to others.

So let us all focus on belonging this year, and the way it strengthens ourselves, our groups and our daily experience.

A Call to Action in Inclusive Diversity

By: Dr. Makini King, Director of Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives

As we usher in a new school year, let us reaffirm our commitment to diversity and inclusion. In doing so we should first recognize that these are not simply words, but a commitment of action that emboldens us to both recognize and embrace our differences as assets rather than inconveniences. Audre Lorde posited that “we have all been programmed to respond to the human differences between us with fear and loathing…but we have no patterns for relating across our human differences as equals”(Lorde, 1984).

While our commonalities may serve to humanize us, our diversity serves to enrichen our lived experiences. For too long we have been socialized to see racial, ethnic, religious, class, faith, gender, sexual orientation, and ability diversity as an inconvenience, something we are legally obligated to accommodate. We are taught to initially and perhaps perpetually challenge the new ideas of Others. We focus on the temporary inconvenience of doing things differently rather than the long-term benefits of original solutions. There is, of course, empirical evidence that diversity is in fact an asset. Studies show that diversity can improve the citizenship and civic engagement of students (Gurin, Nagda, & Lopez, 2004), increase creativity and generate more innovative problem solving (Bassett-Jones, 2005).

In order to reap the benefits of diversity, we must first breach the barrier of the familiar and enter the space of the unknown. There is a certain comfort in doing what has always been done, but there is also a cost. Inclusive diversity is naturally innovative. It provides a built-in method of “thinking outside the box.” When we are offered the contributions of those who have experiences different than our own, we might try to accept the offering as an opportunity for growth. But we have to be willing to take the risk; resist our resistance to difference, press beyond the fear, embrace the inconvenient labor of change and ultimately open ourselves to an evolution.

At UMKC we must capitalize on the unique assets that exist in each one of us. In this new year we welcome our new staff, faculty and students. We know that with new people come new identities, experiences and a wealth of new knowledge. Let’s alter the traditional course and see our differences not only as equal, but as assets. Let us continue to create more inclusive spaces so that we can, together, embrace the gifts of our diverse community.

Four Ways MSA is Here to Serve You!

By: Keichanda Dees-Burnett, Assistant Dean of Students for Student Support & Director of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs and

Iván Ramírez, Senior Student Services Coordinator of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs – Avanzando Program

The Office of Multicultural Student Affairs (MSA) excited to welcome new students and the campus community back for another wonderful year! The MSA Office is here to aid in retention of underrepresented student populations and to enhance the overall student experience by creating opportunities for inclusive engagement, cultivating academic success, and encouraging the value of diversity. There are four ways we seek to engage students, faculty, staff, and alumni throughout the year:

  1. Our space is your home away from home! We are located in the Student Union in Room 319 and our space features a lounge and meeting space perfect for interacting with other students, the MSA staff and studying in between classes.
  2. We provide opportunities to nurture leadership, social and cultural development in students. Throughout the year we host the Summer Leadership Institute, the Multicultural Graduate Reception, Leadership Conferences, Diversity workshops and Show Me Success Academic Workshops that features topics on study skills, time management, test-taking strategies and more.
  3. We are the home to two mentoring programs: African Americans Cultivating Excellence (AACE) & Avanzando Latino Mentoring Program. These programs encourage academic success by connecting UMKC students to professional mentors and academic support services that will promote the improvement of academic excellence, persistence, and graduation. The components of each mentoring program include: Academic Support Check-In meetings with the staff, Academic Success Workshops, mentor match, and cohort activities.
  4. Last but not least, we provide advising and support to some of the best student organizations UMKC has to offer! The Multicultural Student Organization Council (MSOC) currently consists of nine multicultural based organizations: The African American Student Union, Latinx Student Union, African Student Association, NAACP Collegiate Chapter, Men of Color Initiative, Sister Circle, Sigma Lambda Gamma Latina National Sorority, Asian Students in America, Muslim Student Association. Each year we partner with the leaders of these organizations to offer exciting, cultural and educational events. We hope to see you at some of these events coming this fall!

Save the Date:
Asian Students in America’s AZ(e)N Time– August 29, 2019,12-4 p.m. (SU- 3rd Floor)
Men of Color Initiative- Open House, August 29, 2019, 5-7 p.m. (SU- room 319)
Latino Family and Alumni Weekend, September 27, 2019 (Location: TBD)
Black Student and Alumni Weekend, October 4-5, 2019 (Location: TBD)
Legacy Summit on African American Leadership, November 8, 2019 (SU, 401)
Follow us:
Facebook: UMKC Multicultural Student Affairs
Instagram: @MSA_UMKC
Snapchat: @UMKCMSA
Twitter: @MSAatUMKC




UMKC Rainbow Lounge: A Space for LGBTQIA+ Students

By Kari Jo Freudigmann, (Pronouns: she, her, hers)
Assistant Director, LGBTQIA Programs and Services

The Rainbow Lounge is a welcoming space for students, regardless of their sexual or gender diversity and expression

UMKC LGBTQIA Programs & Services within the Office of Student Involvement supports the Rainbow Lounge as a resource for LGBTQIA+ Roos. This space, located on the 3rd floor of the Student Union, offers an open environment for students to meet, study, and hang out. Students are encouraged to utilize the resources in this space, which includes:

  • Brochures and magazines from campus, local, and national organizations
  • Four computers and a printer for studying and coursework
  • A lending library that boasts an extensive collection of LGBTQIA+ literature and media
  • A lounge space with a couch, several chairs, and a TV
  • Access to information about student organizations, scholarships, and upcoming programs and events

We look forward to you stopping by!

Join the LGBTQIA Programs & Services newsletter

Rainbow Lounge Location and Hours

Student Union, Room 325
Monday – Thursday 8-7pm, Fridays 8-5pm

Upcoming LGBTQIA+ Programs

Pride Alliance Kick-Off (Student Organization Event)

Friday, September 6 at 5:30-7:30pm
Oak Street Hall Classroom

Safe Space Training

Tuesday, September 17 at 1-4pm
Faculty, staff, and graduate students can Register Here

Family Weekend Open House

Friday, September 27 at 1-3pm
Student Union, Room 325 (Rainbow Lounge)

Ally Photo

Wednesday, October 9 at 12:50pm
Student Union North Steps

Empathy is the Key

By: Scott Laurent, Director of Student Disability Services, UMKC Student Disability Services

We all have that ability to meet and help the hurt we see in the world.

We are in an increasingly complex world.  There seems to be so many differences between people these days.  If you are like me I’m always afraid of unintentionally offending someone through what I say or what I do.  There are times its bewildering to know how to act or what to say in a given situation.  When I see a friend who is depressed what do I say to them to help them?   How do I support my friend who is gay or a person of color and feels attacked by some social media tirade or some off-hand remark by a public official?

Luckily we all have the ability to understand how the other person is feeling. It’s called empathy.  We even understand the neuro-biology of empathy.  We all have that ability and the more we practice it the more effective we become with it.  It’s a skill that we can develop and learn to use to meet the hurt we see in the world.

Check out this short video by Brene Brown on empathy.

Diversity Ambassadors – Now Hiring!

In the 2016 Climate Study and Listening Sessions, students made it clear that they really wanted more opportunities to talk about diversity with their peers. The Diversity Ambassadors initiative was created to meet this need. The Diversity Ambassadors are UMKC students trained in diversity peer education looking to work with student organizations to meet the needs of our community by holding diversity dialogue sessions.

We are now hiring for the position of Diversity Ambassador facilitators for the 2019-2020 school year!

The UMKC Division of Diversity and Inclusion, in partnership with the Division of Student Affairs, are seeking passionate and self-aware UMKC students who have a demonstrated commitment to social justice, diversity, and equity, to apply for the Diversity Ambassador Program!

Students chosen for this rewarding initiative will become trained facilitators of diversity peer education and intergroup dialogues. Each Ambassador will lead, support, and organize Diversity and Inclusion sessions and special events, with the opportunity to meet and collaborate with UMKC Staff, Faculty and Community Constituents.

The Diversity Ambassadors are always representing the Division of Diversity and Inclusion, and the UMKC campus as a whole. These students will gain valuable interpersonal communication, facilitator, and leadership skills, as well as the opportunity to build community and relationships across the UMKC community.

In the past year, Diversity Ambassadors have reached hundreds of students in our community. If you would like to join the team, click here to complete our application!

For more information on the Diversity Ambassador Initiative and to make a session request visit our website.

Because of the Color of My Skin and Other Misunderstandings of Racism

By: Rhiannon Dickerson, Discourse Coordinator and Lecturer in Communication Studies

The other day I was going about my morning routine, making coffee and washing the dishes. I asked my Google mini to turn on National Public Radio (NPR).  Even though the technology makes me paranoid of the surveillance it brings, it’s also very convenient. Within seconds, I heard Scott Simon’s voice booming across the house. He introduced an author, Damon Young who said “the fact of the color of his skin has posed particular lifelong challenges, questions, and anxieties.” I’m sensitive to this particular framing—“the color of his skin posed challenges”—and in an immediate fury, told Google to stop playing NPR. The issue is not Scott Simon or even NPR, but the wider white liberal cultural landscape in which iterations of this same problematic framing are uttered every single day.

We’ve all heard it (and let’s face it, likely said it) before—“they only stopped him because he’s black” or “she was treated that way because of the color of her skin.” We offer up this interpretation of events as racial analysis, a demonstration of outrage and a display of understanding of racism. Of course, these statements do reveal much about the white construction of race, but they do not reflect the reality of racial interactions.

When we say that people of color are dehumanized because of their skin, we’re placing responsibility, or at the very least, the cause on blackness. One of the hallmarks of white racial identity is the lack of recognition of white racial identity. Most of the time, most white folks like myself experience race as something other people have something people of color experience and that we’re notably apart from. So when race is involved, it’s never our race. We can see this misunderstanding of race play out in those NPR moments. Whiteness is completely removed from these discussions. It’s obfuscated. Erased. Concealed. And so, rendered innocent by virtue of nonexistence.

The concept of anti-blackness is central in this exchange and in the construction of whiteness itself. Even in the moments when we white folks acknowledge racism, we’re still placing the responsibility on blackness. “The fact of the color of his skin has posed particular problems”—again, as though the root of those challenges was blackness.

Let’s be very clear: people of color are not targeted because of the color of their skin, but because of the race of the people who target them, because of whiteness, white culture, and white supremacy.

We know that language matters—that it can both reflect and form our understanding of the world. We must stop using language that places antiblackness and racism as a result of black and brown people. We should say instead, “He experienced problems his entire life as a result of the white race” or “white people and systems discriminated against him his entire life”. When we reposition the responsibility, we’ll have a better understanding of whiteness and people of color.