Event Offers Opportunity for Diversity Dialogue
A title was all it took to pique Paul Kohn’s curiosity about this year’s Diversity Roundtable event.
“I remember that this year’s program title involved fish not seeing water — language that was catchy enough to make me want to learn more — so I decided to register for the event,” said Kohn, vice provost for Enrollment Services.
Last week, faculty and staff members from across campus attended the roundtable titled “The Blindside: Self-Management of Fish Who Don’t See Water.” This was the first year that the event included morning sessions in addition to a lunch program.
Kohn, who has attended this and other diversity-focused events in the past, chooses to attend the events for two reasons.
“First off, opportunities to get together with colleagues and address elephants in the room related to diversity are important to me,” he said. “But I also feel like it’s important for leadership to practice what they preach. If we don’t support these types of events, why should we expect anyone else to?”
Prior to the event, Kohn mentioned that he hoped the event would offer an opportunity to reflect on his own attitudes toward diversity.
“I also hope to hear some discussion regarding the status divides on campus among faculty, staff, and students,” he added.
Perception or Reality
The morning kicked off with a presentation from Charlotte Hamlin, a diversity consultant who created the Diversity Drama training program. Hamlin shared stories about her own eye-opening experiences related to diversity, with one of her key messages being that perception often has more impact on what we think than reality does.
“I often see what I want to or expect to see,” Hamlin said. “And I may attribute causes of behavior to favor myself or the groups I belong to.”
Her parting advice was for the audience to focus on similarities to others — instead of differences — and to build communities based on these.
The Truth of Our Stories
Following Hamlin’s presentation, several staff members shared their own diversity-related stories, which were followed by opportunities for the audience to discuss their experiences in small groups.
Danny Ingram, senior technical analyst from the Office of Information Technology, acted out a scene depicting an experience in which he is gay and in the military.
Associate Dean of Students and Director of Diversity Programs Stephanie Ray shared a story about her father, who was a sharecropper, and the friendship with a white man that would change their lives.
Cheryl Cofield, director for culture, diversity, and inclusion, and Pearl Alexander, senior director for people strategies (both in the Office of Human Resources), also led a segment where people were encouraged to acknowledge their own prejudices.
For example, Cofield shared that several years ago, she was close to not hiring someone — who was completely qualified for the job — because of how the person dressed for the interview.
“Today is an opportunity to hear the truth of personal stories and continue our journey toward creating a culture of dialogue,” Cofield said. “Stories can act as a catalyst for self-discovery and connection, as well as our collective transformation. I hope that today’s events help to open our eyes and move us a step closer toward inclusive excellence.”