Sponsored by the Office of Diversity Initiatives at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, the Diversity Action Forum, Nov. 7-8, 2017, was a two-day event giving students, faculty and staff the opportunity to engage in real, authentic conversation about diversity.
Nearly 175 Smith Terps participated in the inaugural event. Roger L. Worthington, chief diversity officer for the University of Maryland, College Park, shared his vision for diversity and inclusion on campus, and Alex Triantis, Smith School dean, discussed the crucial role of diversity and inclusion in maintaining a healthy and positive work culture and learning community at Smith.
Many people use their first amendment rights as an excuse for bad behavior, said Worthington at the faculty and staff session. But we must condemn free speech that is hate speech, he cautioned.
Not all conversations about diversity and inclusion will be easy, but we need to get to a place where we can engage in difficult dialogues respectfully. Worthington shared some guidelines for effective dialogue, giving three components of dialogic communication: self-reflective dialogue (what is my place in this conversation?), engaged dialogue (listen first and don’t judge the values/beliefs of others in the room) and critical dialogue (go beyond your comfort level and be open to challenges, be informed on the subject matter).
Dina Shafey Scott, lead education and training specialist for the university, facilitated the workshop portion of the forum, defining diversity as “the presence of difference” and inclusion as “the process of getting diversity to function equitably.”
Participants split up into small groups led by experienced facilitators to discuss the following myths of diversity and inclusion in a safe and supportive environment:
- I don’t see race. We are all just the same.
- If I think something racist, I am a bad person.
- We learn about diversity to support minority groups.
- When people say diversity and inclusion they really mean political correctness.
- The most important thing when interacting with others is that I have good intentions.
Dialogue around the topics was uncomfortable at times, but the conversation was energetic and enlightening. Attendees came away with a wider outlook on diversity issues.
Terrill Drake, executive director of the Office of Diversity Initiatives, urged participants to “take one thing that you learned today, no matter how big or small, write it down and use it as you interact with each other over the next few weeks.” He also encouraged attendees to embrace their differences and to engage in thoughtful and productive dialogue busing the tools, materials and interactive activities from the session.
Find out more about diversity and inclusion at Smith: www.rhsmith.umd.edu/diversity.