The First Annual Diversity Summit took place from Thursday, Feb. 4 to Monday, Feb. 8. Sponsored by the Office of Equity and Inclusion, the virtual summit aimed to promote, communicate, and advance the Equity and Inclusion initiatives that the University is adopting this semester.
The Office of Equity and Inclusion launched the Diversity Summit to respond to the recent Black Lives Matter protests and to communicate the work that the University community has undertaken to promote diversity. According to Vice President for Equity and Inclusion Alison Williams ’81, this work is especially necessary now.
“I think a lot of times people get stuck in their silos and don’t talk to each other, and I find that a lot here because people are too busy, and so [the summit] really gave people a chance to get connected to people who maybe they would not have been connected with before,” Williams said. “That’s a hard thing to do, but I think there’s a lot of determination on campus to try to make that happen, and I don’t think a lot of people realize how much work is going on. So it was really nice to be able to highlight all of those efforts.”
The summit began as a means for the Office of Equity and Inclusion to highlight the ways in which other University departments are embracing and promoting diversity. The summit was also organized to urge current University students, staff, and faculty to adopt new diversity initiatives to their respective departments and groups.
“We knew there was overlap in what some of the people were doing, and so we really wanted people to connect with each other, because some people view our office as the ones that are going to fix everything, and that’s not the way equity and inclusion works,” Williams said. “Everybody has to do the work themselves and we try to facilitate that. [The summit] grew out of the idea of getting other people to help spread the word, and share what they’ve done so that other people could get some ideas.”
On Thursday, Feb. 4, Thought Partners Solution, an organization that works to provide training and coaching in conversations centering around diversity, equity, and inclusion, presented two workshops. The first workshop, entitled “Everyday Antiracism,” involved conversations about racial equity in relation to one’s surrounding communities, ways to develop racial equity strategies, and the ways in which racial justice extends beyond an emphasis on diversity. The second workshop, “Managing Unconscious Bias,” covered how unconscious bias applies to a workplace setting, as well as ways to navigate biases and respond to stereotypes in different circumstances.
The four events on Monday, Feb. 8 all focused on the programs and initiatives that are being instituted by the University. The first meeting brought together 17 University departments and student organizations, including, but not limited to: Human Resources, Academic Affairs, the Center for the Arts, Ujamaa, the Resource Center, Admissions, and the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) Equity and Inclusion Committee, all of which shared the actions they have been taking in promoting social justice, equity, and antiracism.
The second event included a discussion about a pre-recorded conversation with members of the Office for Equity and Inclusion.
The third event was a keynote conversation by Dr. Liza A. Talusan, an educator and facilitator who focuses on improving diversity within schools and organizations. The interactive workshop helped explain what equity and inclusion means at the University. Talusan also defined diversity and the ways in which it could influence decision making processes.
The final event, an all-campus dialogue and plenary session, brought together many of the attendees. Williams believes that all these events highlighted how the Office of Equity and Inclusion works with other University departments and groups.
“We don’t work in a vacuum, we collaborate with everybody, and I think it showed in the presentations,” Williams said. “Talking about race is one of the hardest things to do in this country, so having a chance for people to get some tools to help them have those conversations was really important, [then we connected] people with other resources, both on and off campus, depending on what the issue was.”
According to President Michael Roth ’78, Ujamaa played a significant role in coordinating with members of the University administration and other departments.
“Ujamaa did a great service by setting some macro goals for the University, and by meeting—along with other organizations—with the vice presidents responsible for admissions, or for finance and administration, or with me, or with the provost,” Roth said. “We discussed the range of activities going on now to promote a more equitable and inclusive community, and very specific things like hiring and retention programs, as well as the curriculum. I think that those conversations were all informative and even inspiring for people as they’re working in their own areas.”
The virtual events conducted throughout the summit were open to all University students, staff, and faculty. However, Williams expressed her wish that more students had attended the events.
“We’ve been sending emails out since the end of November, but clearly some students didn’t know about this,” Williams said. “We did have some social media go out last week, starting on Wednesday or Thursday.”
Regardless, Williams was still impressed with the number of people who attended the summit.
“I really wish that we had had more students, but overall each session had roughly 90 people in attendance,” Williams said. “Some people were in for the whole day, some people came in and out, but I thought that was a pretty good number for the first time around.”
Looking forward, the Office of Equity and Inclusion is hoping to continue the Diversity Summit in future semesters. Williams believes that the first summit provided a foundation that could be expanded upon in the coming academic years.
“We did want to let people know that we really want to continue this conversation, revisit it to see what we’re doing right, and what progress we have [made],” Williams said. “So this was sort of laying a baseline for where we’re at, and we hope that each year we can do some assessment of the efforts. We’d like to expand the summit more because there’s a lot of things people want to learn about and want to do. We’re just hopeful we can continue the conversation and make it bigger and better.”
Roth, like Williams, was impressed with the way that the summit expanded the conversation on the University’s efforts to promote equity and inclusion.
“I think in some ways the decentralized approach is working well,” Roth said. “That is, Human Resources has its goals, Student Affairs has its goals, the WSA [has its goals]. Everybody has worked not in isolation, but with a greater sense of accountability and probably control as they try to create a university that’s more equitable and inclusive.”
Oliver Cope can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org