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2020 Diversity Summit

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Jeremy Haefner

Speech  •

Hello! Thank you all for joining us for the 2020 and nineteenth annual University of Denver Diversity Summit.  

Thank you, Art, Lili, and Laura—both for kicking the day off for us, but also for all the work you and your teams have done to make this summit a reality. Pulling together an ambitious, bold, and meaningful summit like this is a monumental task. So, a round of applause for Human Resources and Inclusive Community, the Office of Diversity and Equity and Inclusion, Campus Life and Inclusive Excellence and also to Conferences and Special Events and Marketing & Communications for their great work supporting this event.  

While this is just the second DU Diversity Summit I’ve attended, I have been told by people across the community how incredibly proud they are that this summit is held on the campus where they work and study. More than that, they are proud—we are all proud—of how much the summit has grown and transformed over its nearly two-decade lifespan.  

Diversity work is challenging and often frustratingly slow. For so long, many in this community have had a vision for change, but that change comes in starts and stops. And yet, we do progress. We dream big and envision a better future, and we do the work to make it a reality despite setbacks, in the face of larger structural and societal barriers.  

I like to think the evolution of the summit itself has in many ways mirrored our own progress. The Diversity Summit has always been a great idea with honorable intention but, today, it looks quite different from the first time we got together as a community to deep dive into these important issues.  

Now, the programming is deeper, more challenging, more thoughtful. As we grow and learn, the Diversity Summit continually asks more of us—as it should, and as I expect it will continue to do. Because we can always do more. We can always listen more. Learn more. We can always make changes so that all people, of all backgrounds can thrive, belong, and contribute to the community.  

What I love about DU—and this summit—is that our interest in diversity, equity, and inclusion is not perfunctory. I think this is especially true for our students, whose activism and passion are continually energizing. Here on this campus, I believe we pursue this work out of a profound sense of moral obligation. And not obligation in the sense that is burdensome. No, championing diversity is an obligation of honor because we know, most essentially, that is it is right and just. When we are at our very best, our commitment to supporting diversity in its myriad forms is a part of our character. It goes hand-in-hand with our commitment to ethics and to serving the public good.  

The very context in which we find ourselves, here at DU, in Denver, the Rocky Mountain West, indeed in the United States of America, asks us to make difficult reconciliations. Uncomfortable reconciliations. Our history is not untarnished. Our past informs our present and many to this day experience privileges born out of the historic suffering and marginalization of others. And we would be remiss to think that disenfranchisement and the silencing of voices doesn’t persist even now. So we must press forward, continually, resiliently. 

In fact, I think it is our call to do so. As an institute of education, we have an awesome responsibility to model for our students our highest values—the commitment to welcoming, supporting, listening to, and lifting up peoples from all backgrounds being a vital one. As our students go out into the world, they take with them the collection of experiences they have had here at DU among their peers, in our classrooms, hockey rinks, gymnasiums, labs, and studios. If we can help them become productive, kind, resilient, thoughtful, and creative members of society, we have done our best work. This, of course, starts with making sure that every student who comes to DU feels wholly welcomed. It starts with ensuring that all students feel they are a pivotal and valued part of the community.  

I’ve spoken of the moral need for championing diversity, equity, and inclusion. But make no mistake, there is a need that is quite pragmatic as well—and this too affects our students as they enter the workforce. Research continually upholds the assertion that diversity is strength. End of story. Data out of the Boston Consulting Group shows that companies with more diverse management teams have nearly 20 percent higher revenue. McKinsey research shows that racially and ethnically diverse companies outperform industry norms by 35 percent. And diversity extends beyond those measures. We must also consider gender diversity, cognitive and neurodiversity as well as making space for those with disabilities or hidden illnesses. When inclusive teams are shown to make better business decisions 87 percent of the time (according to Forbes), we need to treat building those teams as priority. And when 67 percent of job seekers site a diverse workforce as important when considering job offers (Glassdoor), we need to pay attention.  

Soon, we will hear from our exceptional keynote speaker, Patrisse Cullors—a powerful force in diversity work and co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement. And for the next three days, we will attend many incredible events on campus, each an opportunity, as individuals, to become better advocates and allies, better colleagues and friends, better members of our community. And yet, as we do this work individually, we also do it collectively. This year’s summit tagline, “How do we get to We?” is a poignant question. It’s also one that aligns with our Community + Values initiative, where issues around belonging—or the lack thereof—on this campus are a central focus.  

Just this past week, we had a Community + Values event—a Community Talk that will be, I hope, the first of many great and meaningful events. At the talk, we had the pleasure of hearing from a student, an alum, a faculty member, and a coach on what they would do if they were to build a community from scratch. Their suggestions were poignant: practice contagious kindness, focus on building and—importantly—maintaining trust, connect action to compassion and empathy, and welcome those different from ourselves, even those we disagree with. Each speaker brought with them the experiences, perspectives, insights, and wisdom of their distinct backgrounds and beliefs. It was powerful to witness, and I think a poignant reminder of the value of diversity. I hope, through events like the Community Talk, the Diversity Summit, through the work we do in the classroom, in our clubs and affiliations, and by our activism, we can continue to work toward that “WE” this community—and I think all communities—yearn for. Be sure to attend one of the two C+V debriefs after Partrisse’s keynote. There, you’ll be able to get a copy of her book and have meaningful dialogue about what her thoughts and ideas mean for DU. 

To close, I’d like to ask everyone to set a goal for themselves for this summit. Think about what you want to take away as you attend this week’s programming. Perhaps you want to explore a topic that has been challenging in the past. Maybe you decide to connect with someone on your team or in your classroom, reaffirming for them their importance in this community. Whatever your goal is, set and it check-in with yourself at the closing reception—which, this year, will feature a performance by Gullah and jazz ensemble Ranky Tanky. Each goal set and achieved is a powerful step in the direction we want to take this community.  

So, thank you again to everyone who made this summit happen and to everyone participating and leading the events taking place across campus. Now, enjoy yourself, but challenge yourselves, too. We’re doing big, important work here together. Thank you!