December 16, 2017

Conference talks privilege, identity

From transgender rights to immigration policy, this year’s Diversity and Inclusion conference had many timely topics to discuss.

The second-annual two-day conference held March 1-2 consisted on nine panels. Day one consisted of five panels, beginning with “A conversation with Art Holliday.”

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Webster president Elizabeth Stroble spoke at the Diversity and Inclusion conference / Photo by Andrew McMunn

The Holliday panel, “Media and the Message,” was an interview conducted by senior journalism major Sara Bannoura.

Other discussions were moderated by Jason Blakemore, Webster’s VetSuccess on-campus counselor, a lunch keynote from the Multicultural Center and International Student Affairs (MCISA), Webster assistant professor Julie Setele and Joan Lipkin of That Uppity Theatre Company, a nonprofit organization focused on developing projects that bring together amateur performers with professional artists.

Day two’s highlight was the session “Transgender Ally 101” moderated by Kalani Seaver, Student Government Association’s ambassador for student inclusion.

Seaver was joined by Webster adjunct Andrea Miller and Jaimie Hileman from Metro Trans Umbrella Group.

“I think one of the biggest things to take away from this specific panel, in general, is that to be a trans ally is to be very proactive and very conscious of the ways that we exclude and be conscious of the ways to include people of the community,” Seaver said.

“Take that extra 30 minutes out of your day, while you’re eating lunch or on your phone to just keep updated and keep up on research about what the trans community does and how we identify and how our different identities get put under the umbrella term of trans.”

After lunch, MCISA moderated their second panel, “Dimensions of Diversity.” The discussion started out with an exercise to bring light to every audience member’s privilege. Each person was given a list of privileges ranging from sexuality, ability, race, gender, religion and class. For each privilege the person has experienced, they took a ticket.

“We know that all of us have privileges. Some of us don’t know what they are, so we were trying to point those out,” Colette Cummings, associate dean of students and director of MCISA, said. “Today we wanted to focus on your identity, but what privileges come with those identities because we all have some privileges.”

MCISA’s day-one panel focused more on people’s personal identities and how they impact their daily lives, Cummings said.

Cummings advocated patience in regards to improving the university’s inclusiveness. When it comes to changing established cultures, she said it will take time.

“You have to be patient because if we are changing big systems, like a university, it takes time,” Cummings said. “Sometimes, I know students think ‘I want it today,’ but big systems don’t work like that. I think we should be patient with ourselves, and sometimes I don’t think we applaud what we have done so far.”

The final panel, “Recruiting, Retaining and Inspiring a Multigenerational Workforce,” brought three panelists from three different age generations together to discuss how the new workforce compares to past generations.

Michael Jones, a retired worker in government affairs, said this panel really stood out to him out of the four lectures on the second day.

“I thought all of [the panels] were excellent, relative to what I look for from students who are in higher education, who are in a field, who’ve not only gotten the practice, but the theory,” Jones said. “They all did an exceptional job of showing the depth and their intellectual chops. I thought everyone was excellent. I just thought [the final panel] was truly superior.”

Jones likes calling the conference “Critical Conversations” because it demonstrates that the university is bringing a depth and clarity, from an intellectual and academic standpoint, to critical issues that are faced today.

Webster University President Elizabeth Stroble acknowledges the issues, such as gender neutral bathrooms compared to “family bathrooms,” that were brought up at the conference and in other forums, like Delegates’ Agenda, and said the university will figure out how the school can accommodate those requests.

One of the examples she gave was the creation of an interfaith space, an issue brought up at the conference last year. That space is housed temporarily on the Eden campus, but will be moved onto the Webster Campus after the new Interdisciplinary Science Building is completed.

Stroble said that the conference is a way for the university and the community to express that diversity and inclusion is are valued.

“What’s really important is that we find ways to convene around what our core values are. So, diversity and inclusion has been a core value for Webster, probably, really since our inception, although people didn’t necessarily talk about it that way,” Stroble said. “The topic of diversity and inclusion continues to evolve, and there’s a lot to learn.

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