Discussions Around Diversity and Inclusion Come to DU
University of Denver Prepares to Host the 16th Annual Diversity Summit
Next week the University of Denver will host its 16th annual Diversity Summit on Inclusive Excellence. The two-day event, which runs Jan. 19–20, offers an opportunity for the DU campus and the Front Range community to come together and discuss what is working and the challenges everyone is facing in creating an inclusive society.
“It’s an opportunity for folks to really see the Diversity Summit as a chance to go be vulnerable, access information, interact across differences they may not have had the opportunity to engage in previously and to really come away from the experiences feeling enriched by them,” says Debra Mixon Mitchell, director of diversity recruiting at DU.
Mitchell believes the summit is important not only to highlight the diversity that exists in our community, but also to further the conversation about how to make sure everyone feels included.
“It’s not enough just to have diverse people,” Mitchell says. “The Diversity Summit is a tremendous opportunity to do exactly what the inclusion of diversity is designed to do, and that is bring together folks from different backgrounds who are faced with some similar challenges, but in some instances some very different challenges. It’s an opportunity to bring all of those different communities together in ways that allow for sharing of information.”
An important component of this year’s summit is the opportunity to hear from other Colorado universities, to understand how they work to create an inclusive environment.
“We cannot be an excellent institution unless we really understand that it means everybody, that everybody brings to the table a different perspective, they bring different experiences and they bring different points of view,” says Mary Ontiveros, the vice president for diversity at Colorado State University (CSU).
The president of CSU, Tony Frank, will take part in a forum with other university presidents and chancellors. They’ll discuss their experiences leading an institution as they seek to advance diversity, equity and inclusion. Ontiveros says at CSU the conversation around diversity and inclusion begins before students arrive on campus. Incoming freshmen are sent the “Principles of Community,” a list of values important to the university. Then, when students arrive on campus, they attend a talk about diversity. Afterward, the 4,000 students break into smaller groups to keep the conversation going.
“There is no right way of doing all of this, and we are learning as we go along in some situations,” Ontiveros says. “I think that we can probably identify the wrong way to do things, but we don’t always have the handbook on the absolute right ways.”
Alphonse Keasley, associate vice chancellor in the Office of Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement at the University of Colorado in Boulder, agrees that creating an inclusive community is an important but challenging task for leadership.
“People have been committing to what we refer to as inclusive excellence, so there’s an expectation about what leadership can do to work in partnership with the campus at large,” Keasley says. “There’s the expectation that we can wave a magic wand and that we will get people’s behavior to change automatically. Or there’s the approach that if we could beat people into compliance, then they will respond to that. No, there are many of us who hold out and say, ‘It’s not going to work that way.’”
By creating an open dialogue during DU’s Diversity Summit, organizers hope participants will hear a wide range of viewpoints that will leave them with a greater understanding of other perspectives.
“It’s not enough just to get people who have diverse backgrounds together, to get them in a room and expect magic to happen,” Mitchell says. “There really has to be some effort to facilitate greater understanding.”
The Diversity Summit is the first of six University-sponsored events highlighted by OneDU Presents. The goal of OneDU Presents is to bring together many different viewpoints and world experiences while encouraging the community to engage in open, civil discourse that is free from judgement. OneDU Presents events occur over the course of the academic year.
The deadline for registering for the Diversity Summit is Friday, Jan. 13.