Those who have experience with diversity, equity, and inclusion work know that making true institutional progress in these areas requires teamwork. It is with that in mind that organizers of Washington State University’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Summit will provide an opportunity for participants systemwide to get to know each other and establish partnerships to dismantle institutional injustices.

The DEI Summit is scheduled for Thursday, March 4 from 1-3 p.m. All students, faculty, and staff are invited to participate, and registration is required.

Providing time for dialogue is a break from the format of previous DEI summits, said Matthew Jeffries, convener of the summit steering committee and director of the Gender Identity/Expression and Sexual Orientation Resource Center. The steering committee received feedback from participants that the “stand and deliver” format, where people listen to presentations throughout the event, is difficult – especially on a virtual platform.

“Having dialogues instead will allow us to share our respective knowledge with each other and figure out what can work best for our communities,” Jeffries said. “These can be very powerful moments.”

Anna Plemons, associate vice chancellor for academic and student affairs at WSU Tri-Cities, said faculty, staff, and students on her campus are excited to discuss DEI work and thinks the sentiment is shared on all WSU campuses.

“If there’s an upside to the pandemic, [it’s that] we can host virtual or hybrid workshops that make it easier for all WSU campuses to participate in a more robust way,” Plemons said. “And because a lot of people are feeling isolated due to working from home, being able to focus on connectivity and relationship building during the summit will be beneficial in so many ways.”

‘Done in community’

The summit will begin with opening remarks by WSU President Kirk Schulz and Jaime Nolan, associate vice president for community, equity, and inclusive excellence in the Division of Student Affairs.

Jeffries will then provide an overview of more than a dozen interactive break-out sessions available to participants and how they can access them. Each session will last approximately 30 minutes, and, most of that time will be devoted to dialogue. Each participant will be able to choose two sessions.

Topics include self-comfort and the justice of taking care of oneself, supporting first-generation students, furthering equity and inclusivity through the arts and cultural expression, removing barriers for students with disabilities, and how people new to equity work can get involved.

Plemons, who is a member of the summit steering committee, is excited that the format will facilitate new connections across the WSU system.

“For me, the intention is not just about the conversations that take place, but it is the relationships that you can take with you as you figure out who you would like to partner with in this work,” Plemons said. “This format signals that we recognize this work is done in community.”

From additive to integrated

Plemons is co-facilitating with Lisa Guerrero, associate vice provost for inclusive excellence, to lead a discussion about how DEI interfaces with faculty development.

Guerrero’s position seeks to integrate DEI into WSU’s practices of faculty recruitment, retention, and teaching. The workshop, Guerrero said, will provide an opportunity for faculty members to discuss how DEI is relevant to their work and how it impacts student success.

“What we want to do is help shift the notion of DEI being additive, when it should be integrated into everything we do,” Guerrero said. “If we aren’t integrating DEI into our classrooms, our pedagogy, and our curriculum, we are doing only half the job and underserving a large group of students from underrepresented groups.”

Jeffries acknowledges some faculty, staff, and students might feel nervous about talking with others, especially if they are new to DEI work.

“For those folks who are new to DEI work and want to learn, I’m hoping this summit will pull them into the positive influencer space where their voices are welcome,” Jeffries said. “They may not know everything, and I don’t either, but together we will muddle through it, and determine what will make a better community for all of us.”