Five IUPUC students from different walks of life hope to make a positive contribution to society by giving back.

The five students began by contributing to a panel discussion, “Living his Dream: Activism and Advocacy Through Education,” mid-day Monday at the Columbus Learning Center. The program, sponsored by IUPUC, focused on diversity and inclusion, among several conducted locally on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

The panel responded to questions about diversity, including becoming an advocate on matters of importance.

Esperance Nabakunda, a freshman sociology major and native of Rwanda, moved to Columbus in 2012 with her parents, five brothers and four sisters in search of a better opportunity. Nabakunda said that while she isn’t exactly sure what she wants to do with her career, she stressed that helping others will part of her overall mission.

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“I want to be able to go back home to help those who are still suffering,” Nabakunda said.

Tyshaun Allen, a junior studying business at IUPUC, said he also came to Columbus for a better quality of life. Allen’s family moved to Columbus in 2000, and he graduated from Columbus East High School in 2002.

Treating others as one would want to be treated is essential, Allen said, offering some advice to people in attendance.

“Fairness is very important,” he said. “Ultimately keep pushing forward and never go backwards.”

Clayton Ham, a sophomore English major, said as a gay man, he believes advocating for what an individual believes in shouldn’t be hindered. Ham is the president of Spectrum, an advocacy group that supports LGBTQ rights at IUPUC.

“Don’t hide behind the spotlight,” he said.

Ham, who was among panelists who responded to a question about how they would change the city if they were mayor, said he would focus more on LGBTQ rights for individuals in the community.

“There’s a lot of discrimination happening” that is directed toward the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning community, he said.

Jose Cota-Medich, a junior studying mechanical engineering who grew up in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, also spoke about diversity in Columbus.

Cota-Medich, who moved to Columbus after his father started working for Cummins, said that despite the significant diversity in Columbus, the community is not as welcoming as it could be.

Some ways to change that perception, Cota-Medich said, include placing a greater emphasis on educating all people about diversity.

For example, middle and high school students should be taught more about different celebrations that people participate in, Cota-Medich said.

“It’s very important for that age group to be exposed to different ethnicities,” he said.

President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign speeches on immigration, made in fall during the campaign, troubled Ana Navarro-Mares, an IUPUC freshman who moved to the United States as a pre-schooler.

Among Trump’s most-repeated phrases was: “We will build a great wall along the southern border. And Mexico will pay for the wall.”

“His immigration view is very terrifying,” she said.

Navarro-Mares, however, stressed that she intends to stay in Columbus to achieve a better life for her and her future family.

IUPUC Excellence in Diversity award recipients

Aimee Zoeller, lecturer of sociology and coordinator of the sociology program at IUPUC

The African-American Fund of Bartholomew County, accepted by chairman Tom Harmon on behalf of the organization, was created in 2013

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Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or mkent@therepublic.com