The University of Nebraska-Lincoln held its first State of Diversity forum to address how faculty and staff can best serve students on campus going forward.
According to executive assistant to the vice chancellor of diversity and inclusion Jerri Harner, about 275 students, faculty and staff filled the Nebraska Union Ballroom on Tuesday, Oct. 29, at 9 a.m. to learn about the status of diversity at UNL and how to improve inclusivity. The attendees were also invited to participate in a roundtable discussion to share their thoughts on campus diversity in the past and future.
Marco Barker, vice chancellor of diversity and inclusion, said the 2019 freshman class is one of UNL’s most diverse classes to date, with an overall increase in racial and ethnic diversity However, Barker said there is still a long way to go.
Maurice Stinnett, the inaugural vice president of diversity, inclusion and culture for BSE Global, said he was proud of the progress UNL was making just by having the State of Diversity address but encouraged faculty and staff to strengthen their “ABCs” — advocacy, bravery and compassion.
“If you don’t believe that your success is tied to the success of your students and the success of every person who walks into this institution, we have to reset and recalibrate,” he said. “We are tied together in the single garment of destiny.”
Stinnett said faculty and staff members never know what student’s path they may cross or who is in their care. For that reason, he said it takes courage to say something, even when it is inconvenient, and to advocate for all students and colleagues.
“If you truly want to move this work forward, each one of you is called for the work that you are trying to create here on this campus, and it takes courage to do that,” he said. “You have to be an advocate when you might actually lose something, when it may cost you something to be an advocate … but you have to commit to yourself that you’re going to be an advocate.”
He said faculty and staff cannot sympathize with mediocrity or excuse potentially offensive behaviors. He said educators must step outside of the box, be humble in the unknown and realize they do not have to be the villain in the story but instead the ally in the narrative.
Stinnett said the path toward inclusion will cause people to be uncomfortable and disrupt the current flow on campus temporarily. He said that when more students are being included in conversations, situations can become messy and complicated, but faculty and staff must anchor in compassion and realize their end goals.
Angela Mercurio, an alumni who was named the 2019 NCAA Woman of the Year, spoke on a video call during the event about the bravery and the importance of what she has learned in her career and her thoughts about UNL and diversity after graduating in May 2019.
“To me, inclusion is … believing in the courage and empowerment to share our stories and the bravery to listen to other people’s stories,” she said during the video call. “I think that it is a really good benchmark of creating these inclusive communities.”
The event also allowed attendees to discuss various questions about diversity and inclusion with their colleagues before Stinnett spoke, including their thoughts on what they were most excited for, where they are in their journeys toward full inclusivity and what they feel is holding them or their departments back from achieving diversity.
Nkenge Friday, assistant vice chancellor of diversity and inclusion, said there has already been a lot of work done, but through the collective impact shown at the event, she believes there is going to be a positive impact.
“I’m looking forward to the next steps which will be us combining forces with different partners on campuses,” Friday said. “Creating work groups, really starting to assess where the campus is and what’s our next step.”
Jeannette Jones, associate professor of history and ethnic studies, said that all faculty, staff and students must understand the group effort behind diversity and inclusion.
“We need to understand that our minority students are capable, that they’re talented and that we need to treat them as such,” she said. “That is part of equity and inclusion, not just to check off a box and say we have ‘X’ number of minority students. They need to be included and valued for what they bring to this institution.”
Barker said the event was an opportunity to connect, learn from each other and see where UNL is and where it can be in the future.
“I’m certainly going to applaud our successes,” Barker said. I couldn’t be happier to also be at the same time critical that we’re making sure that we’re thinking about those that may be underrepresented and not as visible on our campus.”