Ariza to focus on community and sense of belonging
Abby Epstein – News Writer
Diana Ariza, one of the candidates for Southern’s newest position, the Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, said she’ll focus on community and a sense of belonging at Southern if chosen.
“The work I am doing is very intentional around community and belonging is specific to being a vice president and learning how to engage with students,” said Ariza.
She said she enjoys engaging with students and assists in creating spaces for students. Ariza was able to help create a resource center for the LGTBQ group at Nazareth College. “That [resource center] came out of leadership from students who worked very closely with me,” said Ariza.
She said she works closely with students and wants them to have a voice and create their own visions. “My leadership has been to push and open doors that have seemed to be closed and students have opened those with me,” said Ariza.
Students said they believe that Ariza would be a good fit for the VP of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Many said they liked her commitment to students and how she can bring her past experiences to Southern.
“I like that she would be willing to invest time in getting to know us, because we are all a part of the community together. I think it’s important to take inventory and get a sense of where we are on the path of progress to becoming a more social justice institution,” said social work major Benjamin Coombs, a senior.
Ariza worked at Nazareth College as Vice President for Community and Belonging and Quinnipiac University as Chief Diversity Officer “I think she has a lot of great experience that can be applied to the work that needs to be done at Southern,” said Coombs.
Ariza said that community is not only found in marginal groups but with everyone.
“We didn’t have a Latino or Black organization at the school I was at. My [basketball] team was my community and it made me feel like I belonged,” said Ariza.
Students said they believe having that sense of community is important at the university. “Everyone should feel at home at Southern and I liked how much she talked about working off of our current community and building upon it,” said Student Government Association President Alexis Zhitomi.
Coombs agrees that everyone should be brought together and involved on campus, “not just those who would fit the stereotypical diversity label by default due to factors such as race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, etc.” He said this is an important view for someone to have applying for this position.
Southern is one of the first universities to offer a position like this. Ariza could not help but to apply. “What got me inspired was the social justice piece, and the fact that working in my community, I knew that I could be an advocate for the silence,” said Ariza.
Many students agree that a position for diversity, equity and inclusion is an important one.
“I am happy to see Southern taking initiative and action in creating this new role for the university,” said Coombs. “It shows Southern’s commitment to this ideal of being a social justice institution.”
One student did not see the necessity of this position.
“It is yet another feel-good position designed solely for the university to pat itself on the back over how progressive they are as they pay someone a salary to deal with non-issues,” said English major Jay T. Cohen, a junior.
Southern is known for being a social justice university but also for its diversity on campus. “We are only getting more diverse so to have a role that brings all those aspects together will benefit our students which ultimately benefits our university as a whole,” said Zhitomi.
Ariza wants to help students in any way but likes to be there as support in order to let the student strive and show their worth.
“My best work has been with community, but with students leading me,” said Ariza. “Students are teachers too.”