For University of Arizona junior Dustin Cox (Flinn class of 2004), what started as a high school interest in diversity has developed into a full-time passion.
At Skyline High School, Cox founded the Human Relations Council, an organization that promoted diversity on campus.
His motivation for doing so, says Cox, was fairly simple.
“I’m a very empathetic person, and I’ve always seen discrimination,” he explains. “I just wanted to be able to do something about it.”
It was through his work with the Human Relations Council that Cox first became involved with Anytown, a nationwide leadership camp with a strong emphasis on diversity awareness.
“Anytown opened my eyes to the world,” says Cox. “It made me realize that intolerance is not only going on in the community, but it’s happening in the state, nation, and world.”
Cox, who has remained active with Anytown, cites his experience there as key to his decision to continue promoting diversity awareness in college.
When he first came to the UA as a freshman, however, Cox was dismayed to find that the university lacked a prominent student-run organization focused on diversity.
“There were organizations on campus that were dedicated to diversity issues, but no cohesive, united effort at the bigger picture,” says Cox.
Seizing the opportunity to fill a void, Cox went to work creating his own such organization, Diversity Initiatives.
This school year, the group went from a dream to a reality. In addition to gaining UA recognition and not-for-profit status for the organization, Cox managed to secure a position on the University Activities Board.
“Being a part of the University Activities Board has helped a lot because it gives us access to tremendous resources,” says Cox. “Just having an office, a computer, and a budget really helps.”
Armed with official status and funding, Cox began generating buzz for Diversity Initiatives by hosting events on campus.
For their kick-off event, called Agents of Change, the group asked students to sign pledge cards that said they would fight racism, bias, and bigotry.
“The focus of the event was to get diversity issues on people’s minds, to get Diversity Initiatives’ name out there, and to recruit for our future efforts,” says Cox.
In order to expose students and visitors to different cultures, Diversity Initiatives also hosted multicultural music performances on the UA mall during Family Weekend, featuring a Jamaican band, Japanese taiko drummers, and a Latin funk group.
Since then, the group has co-sponsored the Tunnel of Oppression, an interactive tour designed to create awareness for victims of oppression; launched a hygiene drive to benefit tsunami refugees in Sri Lanka; run Project Converse, a student-led program that provides English language lessons to individuals in the UA and Tucson community; and organized Tucson’s first-ever Trans-Awareness Week, a city-wide event focused on lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgender issues.
The group also organized the university’s first “A-town,” a week-long social justice leadership retreat based on the model of Anytown, for UA students, faculty, and administrators.
In fewer than nine months, Diversity Initiatives has already gained wide recognition on campus.
“Diversity Initiatives didn’t exist last year, and we’ve still managed to accomplish amazing things,” says Cox. “We’ve recruited 500 members, received tens of thousands of dollars in grants, and put on huge campus events.”
“It’s been wildly successful, and I’m extremely proud and thankful for all of the people who have put their hearts and souls into our cause.”
Such success has required Cox to manage a daily schedule that is often stretched to maximum capacity.
“I probably spend twice as much time on Diversity Initiatives as I do on class or anything else,” Cox admits. “I’ve definitely had weeks where I’ve spent 60 hours in my office.”
Life for Cox is not likely to slow down, either in the coming school year, he will serve as a senator for UA’s student government association and has already been elected vice chair of the senate.
Though his senatorial responsibilities will require him to step down as chairperson of Diversity Initiatives, Cox plans to stay involved with the group while promoting diversity within the student government.
In the meantime, he is also considering adding another major and pushing off graduation in order to run for student body president for the 2008-09 school year.
His motivation to do so, he says, is rooted in the same rationale that spurred him to start Diversity Initiatives.
“I would really like Tucson to be ‘on the map’ for diversity issues, for our inclusive community, and for our ability to run an effective student government,” explains Cox.
“I want our student body to be civically engaged,” adds the political science and sociology major. “I’m writing my thesis on good citizenship, and I want to promote that.”
Cox, who has received a political leadership fellowship from the People for the American Way Foundation, also has lofty goals in the larger political arena.
“My hope is that I’m able to run for the Arizona State Legislature exactly when I’m 25, which is the legal minimum age for holding office” explains Cox.
He acknowledges that such an accomplishment would require massive preparation.
“As a young person running for office, it’s so very hard to be taken seriously,” says Cox. “I basically have to start setting myself up to run right now.”
With at least one year of college ahead of him, however, Cox’s to-do list still represents a mix of big-picture goals and smaller benchmarks.
“First, I should probably check my credit requirements,” he jokes.
As to how he manages to balance the load, Cox claims that the key to his focus and happiness is a strong sense of self.
“Having an understanding of who I am and where I’m from is my foundation.”