Photo by Sam Rosenstiel
Over 200 students gathered at a stage surrounded by chairs in the Student Union Ballroom, but no students sat in the middle aisles.
Speaker Nick Jackson split attendees into four groups by asking them if they have commanding or non-commanding, traditional or non-traditional personalities.
Jackson explained each group’s strengths: the red group was comprised of high-achievers, the yellow group consisted of of dreamers, the green group was made up of supporters and the blue group housed do-ers.
He noted that each group included of students of all races, but these were not the same groups students socialize in.
“So many times when we think about diversity, we don’t recognize personality diversity is really the most important thing we need to recognize,” Jackson said.
The second NKUnity event focused on self-segregation, or the tendency of students to close themselves off to those of different racial and cultural backgrounds. The event, hosted by the Student Government Association on Wednesday, featured Jackson and his company Speakers of Love sharing stories of coming together when it’s easier to keep apart.
“The only way that we can actually come together as a people is when we recognize you as an individual, and not who your momma was, and not where you were actually born but what you are actually doing right now,” Jackson said.
Jackson, a motivational speaker for 10 years, has local ties; he used to coach high school football in both Northern Kentucky and Norwood, Ohio. He said he knows firsthand how students can isolate themselves.
“I challenge each and every one of you at every lunch table and every conversation to come together,” Jackson told students. “Don’t get caught up in a racial group, don’t get caught up even in your own sorority or fraternity. Come together as one: one beautiful tribe of people that we call the Norse Nation.”
Speakers of Love, tours around the country to motivate communities and speak on diversity. So far, Jackson has spoken to over 755,000 high school and college students.
“So many times I’ll get hired to talk to a group of people about diversity, but no longer are we OK with just being diverse. We are a part of a beautiful culture of people that are here together right now. This has nothing to do with your origin, or your language, or your color but everything to do with your proximity to me right now.”
Last spring’s NKUnity event was a response to a “Welcome White Week” flier posted in the SU in fall 2016. The flier, which was not endorsed by the university, mocked Welcome Black Week programming, which was designed to help black college students transition back to classes.
SGA president Sami Dada said this year’s event, organized by shows the first NKUnity was not a one-off response, but is part of an ongoing conversation about campus inclusion asked for by minority students.
Alyssa Nickles, a junior electronic media and broadcasting major and speaker with Jackson’s company, told students she sometimes feels inferior in her own body. It is that self-judgement, she said, that leads her to find her beauty in other places.
“Unity is being able to take all of the things that make us different…and being able to come together and use it as one driving force,” Nickles said.
Former NKU music student Robell Sahle remembered feeling closed off from the rest of campus because he was scared to venture beyond the Fine Arts building.
“What you come to school for can also divide you,” Sahle said. “I didn’t meet another person with a different degree path for about two years and the third year I finally left the building and met other people that had the same vision but different career paths.”
Denorver “D” Garrett said growing up with as mixed race American with black and white family members made him feel like he didn’t fit in with either community. As a speaker, he said he had found where he fit.
“I grew up with trying to fit in, and I couldn’t,” Garrett said. “So I stopped trying to fit in and became a leader. I’m a mutt. but at the same time I’m grateful to be a mutt. Because you know one thing about it, I’m able to bridge all of those cultures.”
Jackson ended the evening with a call for NKU to embrace the members of different communities that live and work here.
“Norse Nation is a nation of multiple people, of beautiful cultures coming together, and you can see that every time your basketball team takes the court. You see that every time you guys walk out of class. The nationalities that are represented at this university are absolutely beautiful,” Jackson said.
As he departed the stage, students rushed to greet him and other speakers; they shook hands, smiled and thanked his team for speaking out. They gave Jackson a warm impression as they smiled and shook hands, thanking his team for speaking at the event.
Nickles believes NKU is already “a diverse and unified space” but said there is more to be done.
“Our biggest struggle right now is being able to look at the differences in the cafeteria, look at the differences throughout NKU, and then with our minds not compartmentalize them and separate them, to use our minds and see the beauty in it, to see the power in it, and then to bring people together because of it.”