September 30, 2016

Webster hosts first Diversity and Inclusion conference

Junior Brittany Madison speaks on the African American students Shaping Tomorrow panel.

Junior Brittney Madison speaks on the African American students Shaping Tomorrow panel. Jordan Palmer | The Journal

The President’s Office and The Departments of Diversity and Inclusion and Community Engagement presented The Critical Conversations Conference on Feb. 29-March 1. The Conference featured nationally recognized leaders in diversity and inclusion and several panel discussions promoting equality among administration, faculty and students in an ever-changing world. 

The conversations ranged from topics on disabilities, relationships across religious boundaries, transgender identity and race relations.  Audience members were able to ask questions and make suggestions to panel members throughout the event.

Two nationally-recognized leaders in attendance were Lee Gill, the associate vice president for Inclusion and Equity/Chief Diversity Officer from The University of Akron and Adis M. Vila, a National Association of Corporate Directors leadership fellow, senior fellow for the Institute for Cross Cultural Management at the Florida Institute for Technology and a member of The Alumni Society of Hispanic Executives. Her 33 years as a corporate executive, government official, academic administrator and attorney include serving as the first chief diversity officer at the United States Air Force Academy. Vila said she believes it is important to create and sustain inclusion.

“You have to be able to identify blind spots, bridge culture gaps and have a core in advocacy. You have to be able to identify your own biases,” Vila said.  “Only then will these employees, or faculty or administrators accept that a more inclusive organization is really a more effective organization.”     

Similar ideals were echoed for the duration of the conference by each presenter.

Vava la Mava, a freshman film major at Webster University, was part of the panel of African-American students discussing some of the challenges black students face day to day on campus. She said she came to Webster University because she did not want to leave St. Louis to go to film school.

“It’s not perfect but it can change,” la Mava said.

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