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Getting Involved in Diversity

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Amy Renne and Ajay Patel

UMD Staff Member Works Toward Greater Understanding

Amy Renne doesn’t think of herself as an ally. She just sees something that needs to be done and she does it.

This fall she heard about Ajay Patel, a pharmacy student who needed something special. He came to Duluth from the Gujarati area of northwest India, which has some unique religious observances which affected the student's academic schedule. Because people from Gujarati celebrate Diwali on a different day than the rest of India, Patel would be absent for an important exam. When Renne heard about the situation, she offered to proctor the exam for him the day following the class exam at 6:30 a.m.  “It rocked the boat with the professor a little bit,” she said. “But the professor agreed.”

Renne is an academic advisor in the College of Pharmacy, Duluth. Her willingness to support students from diverse backgrounds has deep roots. “The first time I felt my whiteness and my white privilege was when I was working as a social worker in Delaware,” she said. Renne and her friend, Delores, went into a pizza parlor and placed an order at the counter. They were told the pizza restaurant was out of pizza. It was clear they weren’t going to be served. “I was shocked and humiliated, and we left immediately. I was embarrassed for my friend,” Renne said. Delores told Renne something that day that Renne will never forget. Delores said, “I am black every day.”

Renne has become an advocate for students from under served communities in the U.S. and for international students. The need is evident. “Not every pharmacy school in the U.S. accepts international students. We accept three to five per year.” Renne doesn’t restrict her help to the pharmacy school. She went out of her way to advise a Somali student majoring in biology a couple of years ago. “He needed academic help and over time, he trusted me enough to make some changes,” Renne said.

She has advice for faculty and staff. “Get to know the students who aren’t like you. Take some of the diversity classes offered at UMD and rock the boat if you see something that needs changing.” Renne said that every day she thinks of the words Delores told her outside that pizza restaurant in Delaware.

Story by Cheryl Reitan. December, 2013.

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