The Office of Multicultural Student Affairs (OMSA) hosted its first Diversity Dialogue Series event for the semester on Thursday, kicking off the series for the spring semester.
Courtney Lewis, an assistant professor of anthropology and Southern studies, hosted the event and talked about voter suppression and the disenfranchisement of American Indians.
Lewis is a member of the Cherokee nation. She led a presentation about the history and current state of voter disenfranchisement for American Indians at an open forum setting in Russell House. The presentation examined not only general circumstances leading to disenfranchisement for American Indians — distance from polling places, voter ID laws, decreased early voting windows — but also specific cases of gerrymandering and legislation aimed to hurt the American Indian vote.
“We did see so much targeted voter suppression happening right before the 2016 election, and it was so clearly done," Lewis said. "You have to be passionate about making sure every citizen has a voice in the democratic process."
After her presentation, Lewis answered audience questions and began an open discussion about the state of American Indians in the U.S. as a whole. Though at first most questions centered around voter suppression, the topics soon expanded to include cultural appropriation and sexual assault of American Indian women.
The main focus of the Diversity Dialogue Series is to highlight a wide range of topics which are often not acknowledged on college campuses. In addition to educating students and faculty about the difficulties of certain groups, the series sets the stage for an open dialogue.
Julianna Heneage, a fourth-year public health student who attended the event, said she believes these events are important at USC because of the diverse campus.
"As a senior here, I’ve seen our events grow over the four years,” Heneage said. “I think they’re important because if we don't recognize our community the way it is, then we kind of lose who we are.”
Lewis believes open and honest talks like these are especially important for college students because of the wide range of experiences a university gives students.
“This is a time where we have the opportunity ... as college students to really engage with a wide group of people outside of your hometown, outside of your family, and really get to know people from different backgrounds," Lewis said. "There’s really nothing like it except to be on a college campus, and I think diversity dialogues gives a platform for that, where you can really come and hear different perspectives."
Lewis hopes that students will be inspired to learn more about the history and current struggles of American Indians in the U.S., which she believes is an often neglected subject.
“It’s something that so few people really know about, and college is such a great time to expand your education on this,” Lewis said. “I really encourage students to dive into this topic; don't be afraid.”
The Diversity Dialogue Series is open to all students and faculty and will explores topics such as identity, immigration and social justice. The next three events will be at 6 p.m. in Russell House's Intersection Multicultural Lounge on Feb. 21, March 21 and April 11.