Classical instrumentalists welcomed guests as they entered the Russell House Ballroom on April 6 during the Celebration of Excellence, an awards ceremony where the diverse excellence at USC is spotlighted along with The Diversity and the Student Experience project.
The Celebration of Excellence gave awards to students for their work in promoting diversity and inclusion around the community. The night ended with a dedication to the Diversity and the Student Experience project.
Rosie Booker, a second-year biology student, received the Jackson-Rivers Scholarship Award for her involvement in promoting diversity within the community.
Booker said the night being dedicated to the minority experience is awesome because so often minorities are overlooked for opportunities and the recognition that non-minorities receive.
Johnathan Jacobs, a third-year marketing human resources student, is the president of Diversity Speaks, an organization that brings students together to learn about their individual differences. Jacobs attended the event and won the Ralph E. Johnson Exemplary Leadership Award for his work around the community.
“Diversity means everyone, but people tend to overlook equity and inclusion," Jacobs said. "Inclusion is one of the most important parts because when you have diversity, it’s important to make everybody feel welcome, a sense of home, a sense of care, a sense of a family.”
The Diversity and the Student Experience project, created by the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs and the Russell House student union, is a wall located on the second floor of the Russell House outside the Ballroom.
The wall is made up of recent pictures of students of different races, ethnicities and cultures engaged in their everyday lives as a way to show their impact on campus and tell stories of past diverse students. This project has three installations of real images with descriptions detailing students and organizations on campus.
The wall is designed to demonstrate the student experience from a diverse lens, according to Shay Malone, the director of the office of multicultural student affairs.
“We want to celebrate, acknowledge and demonstrate the experiences of our marginalized students within the University of South Carolina community,” Malone said.
The Diversity and the Student Experience Project began when students asked OMSA to update the African American presence wall in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing unrest in Columbia and around the country.
But, when Malone, along with her partner on the project, Kim McMahon, the director of Russell House, looked back on the wall, they said they felt it didn’t show the impact of the diverse students at the university because it mostly showed alumni and their accomplishments instead of what current students are doing on campus.
Malone and McMahon’s said their goal was to demonstrate the diversity of the student experience for marginalized students, including African American, Latinx, Asian, International, religiously diverse and LGBTQIA+ students.
“(It is) an opportunity to celebrate the many identities and voices and pathways that students engage in their University of South Carolina experience,” McMahon said.
While developing the project, Malone and McMahon noticed there were not a lot of pictures that showed the history of diverse students. So, they used more recent student organization pictures to show the student experience at USC.
McMahon is working with OMSA and identity groups on campus to expand the project.
“They will get to tell the story of their councils and their community and how they contribute to the student experience. We’ll be growing those panels from the center, down the entire hallway for as many walls as we need,” McMahon said.
Malone hopes students learn from the Diversity and the Student Experience project.
“I want people either to see and explore the many different parts of the student experience here at the University of South Carolina, but those who are part of that experience, I want them to be able to see themselves in this,” Malone said.