Diversity Retreat Calls for 'Internal Earth Shaking'

To open the University’s fourth annual Diversity Retreat, program manager for the Office of Interfaith Dialogue and Engagement, Emiola “Jay” Oriola performed “Garri,” a poem he wrote for a priest experiencing turmoil and mourning in Haiti. Garri is a West African dish, and the process to make it is strenuous enough that Oriola likened it to an earthquake.

“Of all natural phenomena, the earthquake is the most fascinating to me,” he said. Some earthquakes, he said, specialize in rearranging things:

They’ll let you say I love you, then force you to prove it.
They’ll let you have some faith, then force you to use it.
They’ll let you think those good thoughts, then force you to speak it.

All to show you that pain may linger, but it doesn’t last forever.
That true change requires some internal earth shaking.

“The dialogue of diversity, inclusion and equity is one that should shake things up,” he said.

That idea resonated throughout the June 25 event. With keynote and plenary sessions, morning and afternoon workshops, a community panel discussion and a poster gallery, the retreat’s program challenged the more than 300 participants to go beyond lip service to diversity and inclusion and be active initiators of social justice, equity and change.

“People from every University community are here,” said Kathy Humphrey, senior vice chancellor of engagement and secretary of the Board of Trustees, in her opening remarks. “It’s easy to envision our collective power to effect change and create a more diverse community.”

‘We have to do that work.’

For definitions of concepts discussed, Fleming referred the audience to the event’s program; she called its glossary a great takeaway and something other universities could learn from. “When we have these conversations, it’s so important to establish a baseline so that we can understand each other,” she said.

Crystal Fleming, associate professor of sociology and Africana studies in the Department of Sociology at Stony Brook University, presented the keynote, “Confronting White Supremacy in Academia: Provocations and Possibilities,” exploring ideas like white fragility and whiteness as ownership.

Ron Idoko, cultural programming manager at Pitt’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) and coordinator of the day, noted that white supremacy is sometimes conflated only with its most extreme and visible examples.

“If we’re being fully thoughtful, these types of institutions, especially older ones, were designed and created by primarily white men,” Idoko explained. “What are those remnants of those very narrowly designed systems that have prevented others from truly enjoying the benefits and opportunities of higher ed?”

In her plenary session “Creating Spaces for Equity in a Settler Colony Society,” Leigh Patel, associate dean of equity and justice in Pitt’s School of Education, noted the need for precision and asking the right questions.

“What would justice look like? And if you and your respective units are not actually having this conversation, I think you’re not doing the work,” she said. “We have to do that work.”

Read more about the keynote and plenary sessions in University Times.

Integrated workshops

Following both sessions, participants broke into one of four smaller sessions that explored such topics as Pitt’s work with local organizations through the Community Engagement Centers, best practices for digital accessibility and how to make better first impressions.

“The topics and presenters were well planned out and integrated into the themes throughout the day,” said attendee Brad Leeman, graduate adviser for professional students at Pitt Business. “Sometimes breakout sessions can feel peripheral, but that wasn’t the case today.”

Affinity group panelists suggested everyday actions to foster inclusion in the workplace, including the following:

  • Listen actively and attentively to others.
  • Speak out and call out behavior that isn’t inclusive.
  • Be intentional and elevate voices of those who may not feel heard.

A morning panel featured six alumni and staff discussing their experiences founding and advancing affinity groupsE.J. Milarski-Veenis, financial analyst in the Office of the Chancellor, discussed Pitt’s Women’s Affinity Group, which sprang from a Women in the Workplace panel she hosted with Staff Council.

“Our mission is to empower and support women at Pitt. … We’re just getting started,” she said, highlighting activities like networking and speaking events and tours of Heinz Memorial Chapel. “There are a number of fantastic women depicted in the stained glass.”

In “Four Corners: Appreciating Diverse Identities,” Jay Darr, director of the University Counseling Center, encouraged participants to learn about people’s viewpoints and experiences that may differ from their own.

Mario Browne, director of health sciences diversity in the Schools of Health Sciences, said the session resonated with him. “I often am the facilitator for such a workshop, and it was refreshing to be a participant and do some of my own self-analysis and reflection.”

Getting involved

A primary focus of the day was action: It’s one thing to talk about diversity and inclusion, but how, many participants asked, can employees get involved?

Humphrey reviewed several resources and initiatives across the University, including an upcoming newsletter to be launched by ODI, as well as the #PittDiversity hashtag for the University community to follow on social channels.

“These are opportunities to collaborate more together,” she said.

She also mentioned ODI’s UPSIDE Award for outstanding University work that supports the Plan for Pitt goal to be a community that embodies diversity and inclusion as core values. Online nominations for 2019 are open through Friday, August 7.

Employees can also enter ODI’s Diversity and Inclusion Certificate Program, a series of six workshops that address both individual behaviors and University policies. The program is designed to foster in participants an increased awareness of diversity and inclusion and equip them with tools and strategies to foster inclusion in the workplace.

For participants like Ahmed Ghuman, psychologist in the Office of Student Affairs, these and other initiatives show how the University is dedicated to ensuring diversity and inclusion are more than words.

“It’s good to see how motivated people are on campus and committed to promoting diversity and inclusion, learning and growing and becoming more aware of their privilege — and how they can use that privilege to be supportive of others,” he said.

  • Emiola ‘Jay’ Oriola opened the Diversity Retreat with his poem “Garri,” which includes the line “Until you become shaken, you will not know how much it will cost you to be you.” (Aimee Obidzinski/University of Pittsburgh)
  • In her remarks, Kathy Humphrey recited Martin Niemoller’s famous “First they came . . .” poem, which features the concluding lines “Then they came for me/and there was no one left/to speak out for me.” She implored audience members who were able to stand to rise as a show of commitment to speaking out. (Aimee Obidzinski/University of Pittsburgh)
  • Leigh Patel, associate dean of equity and justice in the School of Education, discussed topics such as scientific racism and whiteness as ownership in her plenary session. (Aimee Obidzinski/University of Pittsburgh)
  • Ron Idoko, cultural programming manager at the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, coordinated the day. “What I wanted to focus on was how do we create this culture of inclusion,” he said. “We have experts in different areas who can speak to these matters very thoughtfully in their specific fields, and we wanted to highlight them, to put them in a position to talk about their work and educate others.” (Aimee Obidzinski/University of Pittsburgh)
  • Vincent Johnson, director of equity and inclusive excellence at the School of Law, has attended each of the Diversity retreats and was impressed by how they have grown in participation, support, content depth and impact. “They demonostrate that our Pitt community is committed and open to learning about what is required of all of us in order to make lasting institutional change and long-term progress in this domain.” (Aimee Obidzinski/University of Pittsburgh)
  • At the afternoon poster session, colleagues viewed work like the Swanson School of Engineering’s Pitt STRIVE project while enjoying ice cream and coffee. (Monica Maschak)