Open Eyes, Open Mind: Pitt's Boxes and Walls

Diversity. It is a word that carries weight everywhere we go, and something we hear about in college all the time. Diversity means different things for different people, including me. I attended the University of Pittsburgh’s annual Boxes and Walls event, a collaboration of Residence Life and Student Organizations that takes groups on interactive displays related to diversity at Pitt. I went into it thinking I knew a lot about diversity. I’m an African American woman who has the fortunate role of being a Resident Assistant. I left the activity however, with a sense of shock and awareness.

A tour guide took me and two other people through seven activities that related to the diversity we have at Pitt. The first one related to what it is like to plan a week’s budget of $30 to $80 on meals. It was created by the Pitt Pantry. I learned that it is difficult to plan well-balanced meals for each day— that sometimes students have to forgo a meal for lack of money and that sometimes they have to sacrifice healthy, unprocessed food for the sake of purchasing something packaged but that is more affordable.

I learned what it was like for our fellow peers who are of Middle Eastern ethnicity to get patted down or questioned in an airport security line. I also went through an activity where I had to wear tunnel vision goggles and try to complete a worksheet, even though I could barely see. Finally, I learned what it was like to be an International student who was trying to understand directions in a classroom setting.

The activities at Boxes and Walls only lasted five minutes maximum. Those five minutes for me of being impaired or at a disadvantage in some way were difficult, and I can only imagine what it is like for these students to experience these adversities every day.

It’s important that we remember there are different walks of life at our university— International students who have to adjust to American schooling and culture, fellow peers who barely have enough money to eat, students that face poverty or learning English, and people with physical disabilities who possibly struggle every day to do tasks we consider mundane.

Afterwards, I looked at posters made by different Student organizations that highlighted gender inequality, rape culture, privilege, racism and unsafe working conditions for women and children. There are parts where I got so emotional, I felt I couldn’t continue. You can close your eyes to things you don’t want to see, and cover your ears to things you don’t want to hear, but you can’t close your heart to things you don’t want to feel.

Overall, I learned we need to face things that make us uncomfortable and learn about the many walks of life and people at our university. Let’s talk about it, and create a diverse and inclusive environment where people feel accepted despite their past and struggles.

 

Photo Credit: 1 (courtesy of Pitt Residence Life), 2-5 (author’s own)