Thursday, April 23, 2009

Washington U Sig Ep Speaks on Diversity

Greek Life brings alumnus back to speak on diversity, tolerance
John Scott, News Editor

elliot.jpg

Courtesy of Amanda Coppock

Marc Elliot, a Wash. U. greek alum, will be speaking at Washington University as part of a public speaking tour. His speech focuses on the value of tolerance and the attitudes and behavior required for it to flourish.

Marc Elliot, a 2008 Washington University graduate, will be speaking about tolerance and diversity in a speech at Washoington University in St. Louis

Elliot, whose visit is sponsored by the Greek Life Office, Women’s Panhellenic Association and the Interfraternity Council (IFC), has Tourette’s syndrome and an intestinal disorder called Hirschsprung’s disease

“The thesis of my speech is basically that I try to convey the value of tolerance and the basic attitudes and behaviors that allow it to flourish,” Elliot said.

“His message is quite serious, but he presents it in a very light-hearted way, so it really allows you to connect what his message is and it really allows you to hear a perspective that you don’t really get to hear about a whole lot,” said Ryan Jasen Henne, director of Greek life.

Elliot said he is excited to be back at the University.

“The last two months, I’ve been all across the country, speaking to complete strangers, so it’s really neat to be able to talk to a group of people who know who I am.”

Elliot believes all attendees will benefit from his speech and from learning about his experiences in dealing with Tourette’s.

“A lot of people didn’t know me personally, but they knew there was a kid with Tourette’s on campus because it’s very visible,” Elliot said. “I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised, thinking they might know me, and realize there’s a lot you don’t know about people.”

Elliot’s speaking career has taken him to middle schools, high schools, colleges and nonprofit organizations across the country.

“It’s really has been a wide range of audiences, and each time, depending on the audience, I try to make it conducive for that type of audience,” he said.

Henne said the speech fills a gap in discussions on campus, since disabilities often do not come up in discussions about diversity.

“It is a serious topic that doesn’t really get a lot of air time, so to be able to educate people on Tourette’s syndrome and also on his personal life of being a man growing up in the world with a disability, it’s something that not a lot of people have had a whole lot of exposure to,” Henne said.

Junior Kevin Smith, IFC president, said there were several reasons why members of the University community would benefit from Elliot’s program.

“I don’t think there’s any one specific reason for [students] to attend. His speech is a positive message basically good for anyone to hear,” Smith said.

According to junior Amanda Coppock, WPA president, Elliot’s visit is the result of a collaboration between multiple campus organizations.

“The WPA and IFC and all the exec boards sat down, and we talked about it and decided for any community, it’s important to talk about diversity, and this was a great way to do it. Marc talks about a really unique part of diversity that I don’t think gets discussed in depth all the time,” Coppock said. “We decided it would be an excellent event for Greek life and the Greek Life Office and WPA and IFC to host for the entire Wash. U. community.”

Coppock believes the University already does a good job in addressing tolerance and diversity but thinks more discussion can always be beneficial.

“I think that our campus tries to be really progressive and tries to have a lot of conversations about diversity and important issues, and this is another way of doing that,” she said.

According to Henne, the Greek community has a special connection to Elliot, who was a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon, but Elliot’s message applies to a much broader audience.

“For us, he is a Greek man, but the cause that he represents and the issues that he’s going to speak about really do speak and transcend all boundaries of race, gender, ethnicity, etc,” Henne said. “It’s truly an opportunity for us in Greek life to be a frontrunner in presenting to the campus-wide population an issue that affects people of the world.”

Henne believes anyone can rally behind and discuss the issues Elliot will address.

“We’re hoping what’s going to happen is that people are going to hear this message and start having more conversations about it,” Henne said.