As the University of Nebraska-Lincoln responds to COVID-19, Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion Marco Barker said now is the time to connect with one another.
Most services at UNL continue to be offered remotely, including the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, which continues to direct students to resources online and promote inclusive excellence.
“The way we get through this is really about connection,” Barker said. “I think that connection is also about how I just have empathy and care for others, I think that’s also important, just that human connection, and to understand what’s happening.”
Communities are being impacted by the coronavirus in different ways, he said, and some solutions to fight the spread of the virus may not be the most effective for everyone.
People with different backgrounds, histories, cultures and experiences respond to crises and recommendations in different ways, he said. For example, some people are not able to stock up on supplies or transition to remote learning.
“We just can’t assume that what we do for the entire community will serve the entire community,” Barker said. “I think diversity, equity and inclusion, these concepts, help us to problem solve and to make decisions that are just much more informed.”
Although the UNL community is physically distanced, there are still opportunities to connect with one another, according to Nkenge Friday, assistant vice chancellor for strategic initiatives in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.
“Just because we’re remote, does not mean that the work has stopped — it actually has not slowed down at all,” she said. “If anything, it’s even more intentional and robust because we are absolutely committed to their success.”
Classrooms can still promote inclusive environments and promote a sense of social belonging, Friday said. Everyone is learning from one another how to adapt to the situation, faculty included, but when students feel like they belong, their potential for success and retention is higher, according to Friday.
“There’s only this one strand that connects us and it’s all that’s happening in real time,” she said. “We’re thinking about it and we’re more mindful of the fact that the diversity piece is already there, the piece that we’re working toward now is the inclusivity.”
Despite the changes, UNL must adapt to its new environment, according to Charlie Foster, assistant vice chancellor of inclusive and student excellence. She said UNL must adapt to give all students who need support the help they need, keeping in mind diversity and inclusion.
“It goes to reason diversity becomes a very big part of our conversation, whether we realize we’re having the conversation or not,” she said. “The inclusive part is important to me … We are seeking to make sure that we are considering every situation as we’re going forward because we don’t want to leave anybody behind.”
In addition to the Office for Diversity and Inclusion, the Jackie Gaughan Multicultural Center continues to offer services online, according to Foster.
The center will celebrate its 10-year anniversary remotely on April 16, and students and alumni will have the opportunity to reflect on what the multicultural center has meant to them, Foster said. There will also be an in-person celebration at a later date when it is safe to do so.
“It was built to be a home away from home for students, so it’s a place for students to gather, have their meeting, celebrate the good times, cry together when there's sadness and figure out how to go on,” Foster said. “Those things will continue even though we’re not physically together.”
The work of diversity, inclusion and equity does not stop, Foster said. The same principles that people learn when they are children about fair treatment still apply. And, in order to get through this global pandemic, she said people must remain committed to those principles.
“If we don’t treat each other well, we get stuck, we go nowhere,” she said. “But if we work together as a team, then we can get this done well, and that means we have to learn to do those things we were supposed to learn in kindergarten — speak nicely to our peers, not pushing your mind and giving everybody a fair shot.”