Speakers from across the country and over 20 presentations round out the conference
The inaugural UND Conference on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion drew approximately 400 attendees to the Memorial Union on October 5-6.
Formally called “The Future Is Now: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Higher Education and Beyond,” the conference featured four keynote speakers—scholars and colleges from across the United States—as well as dozens of round tables and different presentations. Faculty members from across the North Dakota University System visited the UND campus to present and participate in the event.
Tamba-Kuii Bailey, special assistant to the president for diversity and inclusion, said registration for the conference had reached the maximum number of people the conference was supposed to accommodate.
Bailey said hitting attendance goals with ease shows that there is strong interest in sharing ideas about DEI.
“It tells me, it tells all of us, that there is this need and people are thirsty for this information,” he said.
The conference had been in preparation for about a year. UND President Andy Armacost supported the idea of holding a DCI conference at UND, Bailey said; and with Armacost’s approval, Bailey helped form a committee to make the idea a reality.
People are doing good work in the area of DEI, including working with diverse and multicultural communities of students at UND, Bailey said. This work falls within the fields of research and teaching, as well as teaching pedagogy. Bringing scholars together at a conference gives those scholars the opportunity to share that information, and Bailey said her goal is for attendees to come away with new ideas they can put into practice.
“I think that has to be the conclusion, that people come away with new knowledge and maybe ways to refine some of their own work,” he said.
Alongside keynote speakers, attendees navigated their way through more than 20 presentations and panel discussions focused on supporting LGBTQ+ communities in education, DEI-focused research, higher education policy, and several other key topics. of the conference.
The conference began Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. with a welcome speech from Armacost, which said it changed its pre-written speech due to the “ambience” of the Memorial Ballroom. This atmosphere? A sense of ambition and excitement to come together.
Armacost noted different activities at UND that support DEI initiatives, such as a growing number of student affinity groups and the hiring of Jeff Maliskey as director of the UND Pride Center. Maliskey also presented at the conference.
Armacost expressed strong support for holding additional DEI conferences at UND, recognizing the need to deepen understanding of what it means to have an equitable learning environment.
“We must continue to work to institutionalize our policies and research that address barriers for individuals on our campus, and to help create a more equitable learning, working and living environment for our students, faculty and staff members,” Armacost said.
Suzanne Johnson, president of Green River College in Washington, delivered the first of four keynote addresses at the conference. She discussed the need for universities and colleges to go beyond words and put DEI initiatives into practice. The goal, she said, is education, because it has the ability to change people, “and people change the world.” It means reassessing how diverse groups of people are treated, to find a common way for people to interact.
“How people want to live their lives in terms of personal time is up to them, their politics are up to them,” Johnson said. “But while we’re on campus, with each other and with our students, we have a number of expectations as to how we’re going to engage.”
(Additional UND Today coverage is available if you want to read more about Johnson’s speech as well as the other keynote addresses.)
Shortly after Johnson’s speech, Kelly LaFramboise, director of diversity and inclusion at Valley City State University, held a discussion about growing DEI programs from the ground up. VCSU launched its Office of Diversity and Inclusion in August 2020. Four students joined LaFramboise who actively participate in initiatives launched by his office.
VCSU’s first task was to write a statement on racial injustice, and efforts grew from there to include work for a DEI certificate for all majors, LaFramboise said.
Present at this presentation was Lisa Johnson, Vice Chancellor of Academic and Student Affairs for the University System of North Dakota. Speaking to UND Today after the conference ended, Johnson said NDUS’s recruitment and outreach efforts had attracted a diverse body of students, faculty and staff across the system. It means striving to make NDUS campuses places of equity and justice.
“What I observed at the inaugural DEI conference were some of the best examples of grassroots efforts to meet the needs of diverse and inclusive campuses, and to provide spaces for open and sometimes difficult discussions about race, gender and gender. social justice and respect for each other,” Johnson said.
Loretta Aggrey, a sophomore at UND, said she enjoyed the lecture and appreciated the insight of the speakers. Aggrey said there is room for growth everywhere, including in his own life, but UND is “actively making progress”. The conference gave her the opportunity to deepen her own understanding of equity.
“This opportunity gave me a different perspective on DEI in general,” she said.
Bailey said he understands the need for regular conversations about DEI and that further conferences would be a benefit. He even knows where they should be kept:
“I think UND is the space to do that,” he said. “I think we have to be leaders not only in action, but also in diversity, equity and inclusion.”