(Written by Kelly Cara, Assessment Research Coordinator)
I just returned from a conference held in Atlanta, Georgia. The conference focused on faculty development and diversity, so I thought I would share some thoughts and experiences with my colleagues. First, this was a totally unique conference from my experience. Attendees were encouraged to skip conference sessions so that they could participate in excursions to interesting places in and around Atlanta. The three main reasons for this were as follows
- One can only absorb so much information in a conference setting – it is best to take some breaks (especially when the conference spans four days!).
- Getting away from the conference sessions provides a unique opportunity to get to know colleagues from other institutions while in a more relaxed setting.
- With a focus on diversity, what better way to start interesting conversations and learn about diversity-related issues than to explore a new city? Exploring historic and cultural sites in Atlanta directly applied to the mission of the conference.
Needless to say, I took full advantage of the opportunity to explore. I visited the Centennial Olympic Park which was created as part of a beautification project for the 1996 Centennial Summer Olympic Games. I ran with a colleague along the 19-mile Stone Mountain “PATH” (Don’t worry. We only ran 7 miles of it). The PATH goes from the Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site all the way to Stone Mountain Park (both of which I also visited). The last excursion I took with the group was to the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra which played Rachmaninov’s The Bells, Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Nyx, and Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy.
Talk about an experience in diversity and inclusion! Between all of these excursions and through my interactions with others at the conference, I was exposed to diversity in several different areas including socio-economic background, political viewpoint, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious preference, dietary preference and needs, physical and mental disabilities, and professional status – not to mention the contrast between work and play.
Upon reflection, what stands out to me the most is that we often tend to limit the term “diversity” as meaning variety in skin tone and geographical culture, but diversity is a much more inclusive term than that. Diversity can refer to our different knowledge and skillsets, our different backgrounds and experiences, our various preferences and dislikes, or our individual capacities. Regardless of what it means, when we focus on diversity and on diversifying ourselves and our surroundings, we tend to learn, push our own limits, gain understanding about ourselves and others, and generally improve.
Diversity is present in Springfield and on our campus, and I would encourage all of us to explore the different opportunities available to us here. As we begin to bring in more racially and ethnically diverse staff and faculty to our University, we will need to be willing and able to open ourselves up to new and diverse experiences and conversations. What are we doing today to begin these conversations with our colleagues, students, family members, and community affiliates? What are we doing to ensure we are prepared to best serve students from different backgrounds and with different needs?
As a final remark, one thing that impressed me the most about the conference was a presentation by a group of students from Fort Valley State University called the Wildcat Force. These students are proud to be a part of their university, and they use their diverse talents and interests to recruit new students and promote their university’s excellence and goals. We too have student groups on campus that are doing outstanding things to promote diversity and awareness. The Giving Voice theatre troupe is one in particular that is helping faculty and staff learn the importance of appropriately confronting sensitive topics in and out of the classroom setting. If you ever have an opportunity to attend a session with the Giving Voice troupe, I would HIGHLY encourage you to do so.