A group of public and private-sector leaders discussed the importance of being culturally responsive and creating equitable playing fields at a “Let’s Talk About Race” forum.
The tri-institutional event featured Auraria campus experts on equity and inclusion leading roundtable discussions related to race. Speakers included Brenda J. Allen, PhD, vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion, at the University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus; Myron Anderson, PhD, associate to the president for diversity, Metropolitan State University (MSU) of Denver; and Kathryn Young, PhD, assistant professor in secondary education, MSU.
About 60 people, including CU Denver’s Raul Cardenas, PhD, vice chancellor for student affairs, David Engelke, PhD, dean of the Graduate School, and Pamela Jansma, PhD, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, attended the session at SpringHill Suites. Other attendees represented police departments, private industry and nonprofits.
Young said that as a white person she was raised to be “colorblind,” and she thought that was the right way to think about race. “We’ve been socialized to think these ways,” she said. “We need to know who’s not advancing as fast in our society. When we adopt a colorblind screen, we actually take away from being able to notice lots of forms of inequality. So, it’s not bad to see color. In fact, race matters.”
There are often systemic reasons why people of a particular race do not have the advantages of another, the speakers said. Also, groups made up of people from a variety of backgrounds and cultures typically make the most effective teams, they said.
Allen credited Tami Door for suggesting that Auraria campus leaders regularly discuss diversity in public forums as well as position the campuses as thought leaders on the subject. Door is president and CEO of the Downtown Denver Partnership and chairman of the Auraria Higher Education Center Board.
'Race matters in people's lives'
“It’s important to try to have the dialogue and to disseminate this information and invite people to contextualize it,” Allen said. “Then you realize that race … matters in people’s lives, no matter what your racial background is.”
Each table was asked to answer a couple questions: As a leader, what challenges related to race are you experiencing or have you experienced? Also, how has your organization responded to challenges and opportunities related to race?
The responses will be compiled into reference materials the tri-institutions are creating for leaders across Denver. Another resource available for leaders and anyone else to learn more about perceptions of race, gender, social class, sexuality, ability and age is Allen’s book, “Difference Matters: Communicating Social Identity.”
Allen shared an example of a CU Denver | Anschutz success story. Early in her position as head of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Allen approached university leadership about launching a retention fund for faculty of color. They enthusiastically approved and provided seed money. “The fund is available to any faculty, staff or student on our campus who is interested in retaining faculty of color, recognizing that that’s been a challenge,” Allen said. “Based on that, and knowing the need and why we value having faculty of color, this is now an incentive.”
Allen noted that the Auraria diversity dialogues will continue on a regular basis. “We want to be a resource to the community,” she said.