Arizona Town Hall Focuses on Equity

Sept. 26, 2023
A panel of speakers on a platform in front of large windows at the September 18 Arizona Town Hall.

What does equity mean to you? How does it play out in our educational system, and what can we do as individuals, programs, or communities to become more fair for everyone? These are some of the questions the presenters and the audience wrestled with at the recent Arizona Town Hall event held in partnership with the University of Arizona at the Health and Innovation Sciences Building on Monday, September 18, 2023.

The event introduced questions of equity through lived experiences of encountering different cultures by the faculty and students who have traveled with the University of Arizona’s Cultural and Inclusive Experiential Learning Opportunities (CIELO). Dan Xayaphanh, CIELO Director, shared that the program itself was born out of conversations with marginalized students who don’t get to study abroad due to a variety of reasons.

“That is why we created CIELO – to tear down barriers, and to allow all college experiences to be a dream reachable for all," Xayaphanh said. The program now provides affordable shorter trips in Arizona, nation-wide, and internationally, along with a structured approach allowing for reflection and processing of experiences.

Facing the unknown and unfamiliar in a safe, structured environment is life-changing. Several student participants shared how empowered they felt when they realized that they too can go and travel – for most, study abroad was not an option being first generation students, working, and/or taking care of a family. They also shared that this program made them feel like they belong – to the University of Arizona (“this is the first time I felt like a Wildcat!”) and to the world. Further on, trips make abstract concepts such as poverty real; for example, they learned what it means to live on a landfill and not know where your next meal will come from. Lastly, these trips impact student participants well beyond the trip itself: students are feeling encouraged to make changes in their lives, which often affects their academic and career choices as well.

The second part of the program was focused on group discussions around equity. Students facilitated dialogue in small groups to discuss opportunities and actions for our diverse communities here in Arizona. Each table of participants generated approaches that will contribute towards a final recommendations report by the Statewide Town Hall on equity in Arizona. 

Mary Grier, Arizona Town Hall facilitator and a board member of the Agnese Nelms Haury Program in Environment and Social Justice within the Arizona Institute for Resilience, who emceed the event, shared that “for many students and other people, understanding other cultures and the issues they are dealing with might be very abstract until they experience it first-hand. The CIELO program not only provides such first-hand experiences but also removes barriers to such opportunities for underprivileged students, faculty and staff. This prepares them to deal with equity in our lives, and use equity as a tool to improve our community. This event showcases how University of Arizona programs like CIELO are important to maximize the potential of our people – students, faculty and staff – and build empathy and connection.”

The event was presented by the University of Arizona’s Office of Cultural & Inclusive Experiential Learning Opportunities (CIELO), The Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, the Agnese Nelms Haury Program in Environment and Social Justice, Arizona Institute for Resilience, and The Arizona Town Hall. To view a short video of the event, please click here.