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UCF's Office of Diversity and Inclusion hosted the first Rally for Respect at the Reflecting Pond on Wednesday afternoon, an initiative to bring awareness about diversity and differences becoming inclusive inside the hub of the Knights' community.

Student and staff diversity representing all 50 states and 150 countries is at a school record of 45 percent, said UCF President John C. Hitt at the rally.

As free Rally for Respect T-shirts were passed out to the first 300 students, music blasted from the turntables and students circled around the pond to support the discussion of equality within race, class, gender, sexuality and religion.

Karen Morrison, chief diversity officer in UCF's Office of Diversity and Inclusion, thanked students for supporting the efforts of campus diversity and introduced two student speakers, Jessica Momrie and Swaran Nandini, as well as the keynote speaker, Dr. Carolyn Walker Hopp.

"Respect seems to be universally wanted and given and it needs to be habitually given," Morrison said before introducing the speakers.

Both students, Momrie and Nandini, spoke candidly about the open-minded students and staff at UCF, but they both challenged students to remain conscious of each other's differences in order to bestow respect on and include one another.

"For every rude person outside [of UCF], I was welcomed by 100 more kind people at UCF. Let's continue our tradition where we love and be kind to one another," said Nandini, an international doctoral student from India studying biomedical sciences.

After Nandini spoke, the keynote speaker, Dr. Carolyn Walker Hopp, lecturer and coordinator of UCF's College of Education and Human Performance, embraced the audience and spoke of the unique time of opportunities afforded to students. She also recognized that students are in a time where equality continues to be the core of society's evolution.

"The idea of normalcy is being challenged once again," she said.

Hopp reminisced on her youth growing up in the segregated South, and marveled at the motivating advice given to her by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. while she was in college. She also echoed the sentiments of Alex Haley, the author of Roots: The Saga of an American Family: "Find the good and praise it."

Ira Murray, a junior health services administration major and a member of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion mentoring program, LEGACY, said Hopp and the speakers made him appreciative of UCF's efforts to support diversity.

"I'm glad to see UCF taking steps to make this a great campus," he said.

In order for UCF to evolve with society's perception of normalcy, Hopp challenged students to live a life of excellence with no excuses.

"The whole idea of [Rally for Respect] was very impactful as far as being relevant to what's going on in society. The whole aim and initiative was very informative to open the eyes of students in the long term," said Malorie Sandlin, a junior nursing major.

The Rally for Respect was a preview of the "RESPECT UCF" awareness campaign for UCF's Diversity Week, which is set to begin with various activities and events from Oct. 12 through Oct. 16.

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Shanae Hardy is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Email her at ShanaeH@CentralFloridaFuture,com.

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