Webster’s Diversity and Inclusion Conference will aim to address the concerns of some students who feel that they have been marginalized at Webster.
President of the Association for African Students (AAS) Ola Ugobo said he hopes the conference can be his opportunity to encourage students to participate in more events coordinated by them. He said he noticed a participation gap between events coordinated by the AAS versus those of other student groups.
“Coming from a society where you used to be the majority and now you happen to be the minority, we basically want to see what Webster is going to do to make these people feel welcomed,” Ugobo said. “In a way, we still feel segregated. We do have events, and you find out that the Americans don’t come to our events.”
Several of Webster’s student groups such as the AAS, LGBTQ+ community, Vietnamese Student Association, Confucius Institute and many others will be in attendance at the Diversity and Inclusion Conference as well. The conference will take place Feb. 26-28 with a cultural involvement fair in the East Academic Building commons.
The conference will include lectures and panel discussions from some of Webster’s alumni to discuss some of society’s diversity issues. In the past, the conference has included discussions about hate speech, unconscious bias, gender bias and a host of other issues. Guest speakers will include people ranging from CEOs to entrepreneurs.
Director of Community Engagement Jennifer Starkey said having experienced, successful people come to Webster always registers well with students.
“I think there needs to be a good mix of opportunities for people to learn in a way that they learn best,” Starkey said. “Some people respond better hearing a celebrity or hearing somebody successful talk about something and might listen a little bit more than if it was just another kid.”
Starkey’s role as Webster’s director of community engagement began last year and she has been making sure diversity and inclusion remains one of Webster’s top priorities. Most notably, when President Donald Trump imposed travel restrictions for people coming in from other countries, she helped organize a town hall for international students.
Organizing events like these helps her see what the concerns of students are and influences the decisions she makes in the future. Starkey said she hopes the conference can help her come up with new ways of promoting diversity as well.
“There’s always a few things that come up every year, whether its questions from the crowd, or after the fact, we hear people make comments about what they want to hear about in the future,” Starkey said.
Former Chief Diversity Officer Nicole Roach organized Webster’s first Diversity and Inclusion Conference in 2015. After working closely with the president’s office and the office of advancement, they concluded this conference would be the best way for students to communicate with alumni about diversity.
Now that Roach is retired, the Student Government Association’s Ambassador for Diversity and Inclusion Matt West said he wants Webster to build off of what Roach has done and encourage students to be more engaged. He said he hopes Webster’s leadership can do a better job of bridging the gap between students and the school’s messaging about diversity and inclusion.
“The biggest thing that I think we can do better is communicate.” West said. “Whether it be students are not looking at the information, so they don’t know about it, or the messaging we are using is outdated, it’s really about, how do we bring people into the conversation about timely issues that we’re having and the important things to students.”
West said he looks forward to this conference bringing people of all races and backgrounds together to be able to talk about complex issues that each group of people encounter in today’s society.
“It’s about bringing people in on the conversation,” West said. “It’s about bringing the community together, whether that be trustees, donors, students or teachers. It’s a way to bring about the entire community to talk about topics that you may not hear about in your day-to-day life, but want to become more invested in.”