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What Each of Us Can Do to Create a More Inclusive Campus
Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Keith A. Alford knows the work of creating a diverse and equitable campus is a challenge every day—but one that is necessary and achievable.
His vision speaks to the value of each person, as referenced, in part, in his personal statement on diversity.syr.edu:
“At Syracuse University, our credence in the dignity and worth of humankind is paramount. This belief is consistent with our commitment to ensuring a diverse, equitable, inclusive and accessible campus environment for all. Positive coexistence happens when each person feels deeply welcomed and appreciated.”
How do we get there?
“Talking about how we value diversity is easy. Doing the work to cultivate an equitable and inclusive campus climate takes effort that is intentional,” Alford says. “It takes deliberate and ongoing work to undo biases that influence our words and actions.”
The good news, he believes, is that as a community we do have the power to create this change. The great news is that many of us have already started doing the work.
“In an effort to create a climate of positive coexistence in our offices and classrooms, we must be committed and mindful that an appreciation of our identities and our backgrounds is paramount,” Alford says.
Here he shares what holds us back from embracing difference, how we can better understand our own biases and why we should care.
Q: How do we define diversity?
A: When we speak about diversity, we are not referring only to race, gender, sexual orientation or disability. There are multiple dimensions of diversity that overlap and define who we are. These dimensions can include age, gender identity, sexual identity, military status, ethnicity, racial identity, disability status, citizenship status, socioeconomic status, faith-based affiliations, education, geography and organizational position status. This list is not exhaustive. The intersection of these identities is what influences our experience and contributes to the excellence each of us brings to the table. An inclusive and equitable environment acknowledges, respects and leverages the mosaic of diversity each person offers.
Q: How might we embrace the differences of others?
A: Creating a diverse, equitable, accessible and inclusive environment requires continued work. Diversity is the intersection of the parts of our lives that makes us unique. There is fluidity in diversity. Diversity and inclusion work requires continuous dialogue in an effort to cultivate awareness to foster a campus climate where everyone feels welcomed and valued.
To reduce the impact of bias, we must engage in activities that help us develop awareness of bias and cultivate skills that help us receive feedback from others.
Q: Why should we care about cultivating an equitable and inclusive environment in our offices and classrooms?
A: If given a choice, each of us would prefer to work somewhere we feel valued, where our opinions and ideas are solicited and respected, and where we feel comfortable to express our unique identities. Actively working to create an equitable and inclusive work environment allows us all to be our authentic selves.
Q: How do we start to make those investments in personal development to understand our biases and gain greater understanding of others?
A: Developing an inclusive mindset takes deliberate and mindful work to counteract biases that have been cultivated over hundreds of years from myriad sources.
We owe it to ourselves to dig deeper in terms of the histories we were told. We owe it to each other to develop ways to engage in dialogues and courageous conversations about uncomfortable interactions with the potential for fruitful engagement.
Listening to stories and perspectives remains central to respecting true diversity and inclusion. The question is, are we ready to listen?