Differences Celebrated, Barriers Challenged during SIUE’s Inaugural Diversity Day
Hundreds of students, faculty, staff and community members of varying ethnicities, ideologies, gender identification and sexual orientation took part in Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s Inaugural Diversity Day 2018 on Tuesday, Oct. 16 on the University’s Edwardsville, East St. Lois and Alton campuses.
The Diversity Day theme was “From Awareness to Action, SIUE Shaping a Changing World.” The kickoff event for community stakeholders on Monday, Oct. 15 featured Olympic legend and gold medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee as the guest speaker.
“I hope that Diversity Day offered people the opportunity to gain new knowledge, have open dialogue, meet someone new and embrace the concept of what diversity and inclusion means for us at SIUE,” said Venessa A. Brown, PhD, associate chancellor for diversity and inclusion and chief diversity officer, who led the SIUE Diversity Day Committee. “Diversity and inclusion are important values at SIUE. We are creating a new tomorrow, by what we are doing today.”
The daylong event was educational, motivational, challenging and fun. It was jam-packed with speakers from the Metro East, dance, art, presentations, posters and cuisine representing varying ethnic roots. The Diversity Day Committee also presented SIUE’s Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan.
Notably, the Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) Fairness and Equality Campaign endorsed SIUE Diversity Day.
In a letter to Edwardsville Mayor Hal Patton, IDHR Director Janice Glenn wrote, “Thank you for submitting your event to be part of IDHR’s yearlong celebration. As we recognize our 200th year of statehood, the City of Edwardsville’s participation will go a long way in helping us celebrate and reaffirm Illinois’ rich history of valuing diversity, inclusion and non-discrimination.”
“When I talked to Dr. Brown a year ago, I said it would be amazing if the University could take time out for a day and ask ourselves these questions,” said SIUE Chancellor Randy Pembrook. “‘What are our goals for diversity, and are we making progress?’”
“On campus, we are trying to create an environment of respect, safety and trust,” Pembrook continued. “Within the last year, we have offered the Sustained Dialogue program to our freshman honors classes, launched biweekly Inclusive Conversations with the campus community, created the Bias Incident Response Team (BIRT) and established the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion.”
“This is my challenge to you,” Pembrook told Diversity Day attendees. “I hope that at some point today, you will sit down and talk one-on-one with someone from a different background and try to understand their world, and hopefully they will understand yours.”
The day began with a breakfast and a panel on “Why This Day is Important,” sponsored by the SIUE School of Business.
“There is nothing like diversity and inclusion in the work place. You can’t have one without the other,” said Laura Morrison, senior manager of Global Human Resources Operations at Pfizer. Morrison is a member of the Pfizer Colleague Council that directs the diversity and inclusion approach for Pfizer LGBT colleagues across the world. “Diversity and inclusion will give your business a competitive advantage and impact your bottom line.”
“Without diversity you will not have an innovative group of thinkers,” said Kelly Litzelfener, professional recruiter for Technical Youth at Brooksource. “There is research that shows that companies who have more diversity are more successful and better off financially.”
“Social engagement is much higher among those companies where there is diversity and inclusion,” said Jimmie Howlett, vice president of community and economic development at Busey Bank and SIUE alumnus. “When there is diversity and inclusion, employees are happier. You will get more effort out of your employees in a diverse workforce.” Howlett graduated from SIUE with a bachelor’s in business administration in 2006.
During the luncheon, sponsored by the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, Taylor Morgan, a senior majoring in computer science, talked to others at the table about the earlier presentation on intersectionality.
“It was really interesting. I don’t think some people realize that you can have multiple identities and the degree to which it can impact your life,” said Morgan. “I’m a student, African American, young black woman, dancer and middle class.”
“Growing up, I used to think that those parts of me may not be able to work together, and I had to pick different pieces of my identity to display to different people,” she continued. “But now that I understand myself more, I realize I can show people all the parts of me and not feel like I need to fit into a box.”
Sitting next to her at the luncheon was School of Education, Health and Human Behavior Interim Dean Paul Rose, PhD. “Do you enjoy surprising people by going against their expectations of you?” Rose asked.
“Yes. If people try to put me into a box, I do like to combat it by proving them wrong,” smiled Morgan, who is president of the SIUE Chapter of National Society of Black Engineers. “There are also people within your own group who say one experience or experiences have to be common among the entire group. I think that comes from a place of fear sometimes. I like to show that it is OK to have a different opinion and different experiences among those who are in your group. When people break out of those boundaries, it shows others it is OK for them to do so, too.”
“I do, too,” added Rose. “Sometimes, if you are a white, middle class male, people will assume that you have certain political, religious or other views. But it turns out, that if you get to know someone well enough, you will find everyone is unique.”
Details on the numerous educational sessions held throughout Diversity Day are available at siue.edu/diversity-day.
Photos: Several panels were held during SIUE Diversity Day including “Why This Day is Important” and “Intersectionality.”
Among the many events during the day was a discussion on the book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander. Venessa A. Brown, PhD, associate chancellor for diversity and inclusion and chief diversity officer, facilitated the discussion.
Many activities occurred throughout the day including songs from preschoolers at the SIUE Helen Davis Head Start/Early Head Start Center and an Art Hive.
SIUE Diversity Day brought together many people. Shown from (L-R) are Shirley Portwood, SIU Board of Trustee member, and Rachel Stack, SIUE vice chancellor for University Advancement and CEO of the University Foundation.