CU community celebrates diversity, takes stock of challenges

Conversations on inclusivity highlighted at systemwide Diversity Summit

CU community celebrates diversity, takes stock of challenges
Brenda J. Allen discusses "Cultivating Inclusive Leadership" during a breakout session at Monday's CU Diversity Summit at UCCS.

Nearly 300 faculty, staff and leadership from across the University of Colorado system convened Monday at UCCS for the 2017 Diversity Summit, a day of presentations, activities and speeches that spurred discussions echoing others taking place across the nation.

“Post-election, diversity work has gotten more complex,” CU Denver’s Tina Moser said during a Q&A session led by the chief diversity officers of the four campuses. “It almost seems like we’re starting over again.”

Kee Warner
Kee Warner

Kee Warner, UCCS associate vice chancellor for inclusion and academic engagement, said the current political and social climate “has brought issues to the surface … issues that are always there have been made more acute. We’ve had to stop and take stock.”

“There are programs in place at all of the campuses that create this space for dialogue. But (the current climate) adds a lot more seriousness to it. It can’t just be extra programming,” said Warner, who recently announced he will return to the faculty. “It’s very clear to me that people are hungry for a place to talk things through. We have the expectation that we’re not going to walk out with an agreement or solution, but that people are committed to learning from each other.”

Dialogue and engagement has taken on a heightened profile in recent months at CU Boulder as well. For example, Robert Boswell, CU Boulder vice chancellor for diversity, equity and community engagement, pointed to a December letter signed by more than 200 faculty members asking administration to lend its support to events proposed as alternatives to the January talk by Milo Yiannopoulos.

Brenda Allen
Brenda J. Allen

At CU Denver and the CU Anschutz Medical Campus, Brenda J. Allen, vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion, said colleagues are increasingly asking how to help build a more inclusive culture.

“We need to still do the work of educating one another,” she said. “I’m heartened to see so many people who have stepped up – I want to take advantage of that.”

Earlier in the day, a panel of all four chancellors cited successes in diversity – making strides in increasing student diversity – while also acknowledging long-standing challenges, such as boosting diversity among faculty and staff, and cultivating campus cultures that are welcoming and inclusive.

Venkat Reddy

UCCS Interim Chancellor Venkat Reddy said the campus is tapping faculty to be trained as “diversity champions” who would serve on search committees.

CU Anschutz Chancellor Don Elliman called for vigilance and patience in working toward diversity goals, such as increasing the percentage of faculty of color in tenured and tenure-track positions, which is 16 percent (CU Denver and CU Anschutz combined).

“We are, in short, a work in progress,” Elliman said. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

CU Boulder Phil DiStefano touted his recent appointment of a cabinet subcommittee on diversity and inclusion.

“When you look at diversity, it’s gone through an evolution,” DiStefano said. “When you think about diversity 20 years ago, I remember on campus we had signs that talked about being color blind – how not to recognize differences. Well, we’ve really evolved from that over the years.”

DiStefano also said CU’s diversity successes, including making gains in under-represented student populations, deserve to be points of pride. Collectively, CU’s share of Colorado minority resident enrollment is 33 percent – highest among public four-year institutions in the state.

“Our campuses are some of the most diverse places in the state of Colorado,” he said.

Dorothy Horrell
CU Denver Chancellor Dorothy Horrell speaks during the Diversity Summit lunch. The panel of chancellors was completed by, from left, CU Boulder's Phil DiStefano, UCCS' Venkat Reddy and CU Anschutz's Don Elliman.

When asked to describe her vision of diversity and inclusion, CU Denver Chancellor Dorothy Horrell said she imagines a campus “where every student, every faculty member, every staff member says, ‘I belong here.’

“So how do we create that kind of culture? Because, as (DiStefano) said, we’ve made huge progress – all four campuses – in numbers. But what really tells the story is the feelings and the climate we have.”

Reddy described such a culture as exhibiting “respect, compassion and safety.”

President Bruce D. Benson was unable to attend because of a prior travel commitment, but spoke to the assembly via video. Two members of the Board of Regents – Chair Irene Griego and Heidi Ganahl – were among attendees of the summit, titled “Fostering a Culture of Inclusion: Modeling System Change.”

Sarah Willie-Lebreton
Sarah Willie-Lebreton delivers the keynote.

The day began with a keynote address from Sarah Willie-Lebreton, professor of sociology at Pennsylvania’s Swarthmore College. In learning about the CU system, she said she saw “a good foundation on which to grow the numbers of American students of color and faculty members of color.”

“With each diversity summit, and each one of you, the University of Colorado is ready to live more fully into its ideals,” she said. “I am confident in your forward momentum.”

Read more on Willie-Lebreton’s keynote speech in Communique.