More than 200 attend inaugural event, brainstorm ways to improve diversity and inclusion
By Chris Casey | University Communications
DENVER – More than 200 faculty and staff members attended the inaugural Diversity Summit held April 23 by the University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus.
Brenda Allen, Ph.D., associate vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion, thanked the attendees for persevering through yet another snowy morning and filling up a ballroom at the Doubletree Hotel.
“The theme of our summit is ‘Diversity Matters: Explore, Engage, Envision,'” she said. “That’s what we’ll do today.”
Much of the half-day event was devoted to break-out sessions where attendees brainstormed in small groups. The summit included exhibits from more than 20 university groups and offices that offer services related to diversity and inclusion.
After registration and breakfast, the summit began with welcoming remarks by Allen and Chancellor Don Elliman.
Scenes from the Diversity Summit:
Elliman said the two biggest long-term issues facing Colorado are water and education, with diversity playing a huge role in the latter. Colorado has the second-largest academic achievement gap between white students and students of color in the nation, he said. The K-12 system and higher education, especially, play vital roles in working to bridge that gap.
“It can’t be done without role models in faculty and staff,” he said. “We need to have people who represent, essentially, a beacon for ESL learners, for first-generation learners, for Hispanics, and really for anybody who feels they are disadvantaged in today’s society. That’s really why you’re here today.”
Elliman said the University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus — as evidenced by the Diversity Summit, which will be an annual event, and other initiatives — is becoming a leader in terms of addressing diversity issues.
Allen, who took the helm of the The Office of Diversity and Inclusion last August, thanked the university leadership for its “phenomenal support” of diversity initiatives. The office on the Anschutz Medical Campus is now known as the Office of Inclusion and Outreach.
She noted that a statement from the university strategic plan says that diversity alone is not enough. The university is striving to create a culture of inclusion where diversity is coupled with the principles of value, trust and respect.
“For me, inclusion means that no matter who you are you feel that you’ve been invited to our campus, you feel welcome, and you actually even feel that we’ve anticipated you’re going to be here,” Allen said. “That’s no matter who you are — faculty, staff or student.”
The university quick fact sheets show that both the Denver Campus and Anschutz Medical Campus boast diverse student populations. Compared to prior years, the university’s percentages of faculty of color in the tenured/tenure track ranks are up for fall 2012.
Allen pointed out that diversity extends well beyond race, ethnicity and gender to sexual orientation, veteran status, physical ability status, nationality, religion and socio-economic status.
Allen noted that challenges remain, such as by simply pursuing diversity through numbers, by limiting diversity education to students and by conceptualizing diversity “as this issue over there … like having a diversity day.”
Her many reasons for why “diversity matters” included this: “Diversity matters because of its potential for positive impact,” Allen said. “We can make a difference. In particular in higher education, we are a primary source of helping to construct students’ identities.”
She encouraged attendees to fill out cards on the tables where they can “make a wish” for something or just ask a question or propose an idea.
She closed her opening remarks with a quote by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor: “The dynamism of any diverse community depends not only on the diversity itself, but on promoting a sense of belonging among those who formerly would have been considered and felt themselves outsiders.”
(Photo at top: Chancellor Don Elliman addresses the Diversity Summit on April 23 at the Doubletree Hotel in Denver.)