Dinner with DEI marks 50 years

Mavericks from all walks of life gathered in the Centennial Student Union Ballroom Wednesday for a Diversity Dinner, hosted by the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Center. This is the 50th anniversary of the Diversity Dinner, which features cultural cuisine, sentimental speeches and diverse dances showcasing Minnesota State’s wide variety of student cultures.

The purpose behind the dinner event is to shine a light on the communities that often go unrepresented, offering attendees the chance to hear unique stories from all over the world, and from all the MSU culture departments.

“African American Affairs, Asian American Affairs, we’re all going to have our own speakers there. It’s really just a great way to kind of see everyone and appreciate all the work that we do. It’s important work that we do and we want to shine a light on everyone in each department,” said Stephen Thomas, interim director of the LGBT Center.

Two of the Diversity Dinner speakers, MSU alumni Wyatt and Alec Otto, were handpicked by Thomas to represent the LGBT center for the event. The two of them, known in drag under the stage names Wanda Gag and Ava Cado, built the south central drag scene in Minnesota from the ground up.

“The business that they started, creating opportunities for drag performers down here in the greater Mankato area was just phenomenal,” Thomas said. “They knew who to talk to. They knew how to get it. And it just worked out so perfectly. And now there’s a show each month. They started something that I thought would never happen.”

At the dinner, Wyatt and Alec Otto spoke on the recent bills passed in Tennessee and spreading throughout the country, criminalizing the artform of drag and working to eradicate transgender people from the country entirely.

No existence should be criminalized for your expression,” said Alec Otto. “And honestly, that is all we’re doing: expressing ourselves. I said in my speech, ‘Drag is the purest form of expression.’ We’re out there so that people can feel less worried about themselves,” Otto said.

“Right now the (LGBT) community needs to be louder and prouder than ever,” Wyatt Otto said.

Despite all these cultures being around for centuries, the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Center is a more recent creation, only coming to its full fruition as a resource center offering all three tenets in its title in the last couple decades.

Moving forward, the center plans to offer more support to students who need it so they can achieve academic success to the best of their abilities.

“Right now we are here for the students, making sure they have a good time and making sure that this is a safe and welcoming environment for all. One of our focuses is closing the opportunity gap for students of color,” Thomas said.

Equity 2030, an agenda created by the Minnesota State Colleges Office, focuses on closing educational attainment gaps for students of color, low-income and first-generation students by the year 2030.

“A lot of students are dropping out because they don’t feel like this is a place for them, or they drop out or withdraw because of financial situations and hardships. The reason why we have so many resources is so we try to focus on those [hardships] so that way they can walk across that stage and get that degree,” Thomas said.

Header photo: Alec (left) and Wyatt Otto, respectively known in drag as Ava Cado and Wanda Gag, spoke on the creation of their company Drag Me with a Spoon and the ban on drag shows in Tennessee. (Dylan Engel/The Reporter)

Write to Joey Erickson at

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