On Tuesday, the Office of Diversity, Equity & Community Engagement held the fall 2020 Diversity and Inclusion summit in a series of webinars covering a number of topics including inclusion in the classroom, anti-Asian racism through a discussion of the book “So You Want to Talk About Race“ and the significance of “heartwork.”
The summit aimed at helping participants build knowledge and skills to create a more inclusive CU community.
The first session, “Cultivating Inclusion in the Classroom: Practices that Make a Difference,” focused on the ways that educators can build productive, inclusive and supportive environments for their students.
“Learning is a vulnerable process,” Becca Ciancanelli said. Ciancanelli taught chemistry with the Student Academic Success Center (SACS) for 17 years and has implemented regular reflection in her classroom.
The panelists discussed how conversations of culture, community and identity can help to build a positive learning environment.
“We need to do better, it’s incumbent upon us to address the culture in our spaces,” Ciancanelli said, emphasizing the importance of this even when content seems neutral.
Donna Mejia, Director of Graduate Studies in Dance, builds on this point. She said that her identity as a women of mixed heritage gives her a perspective beyond binaries.
“I have always been inspired to use the classroom as a space to disrupt binaries and to disrupt assumptions,” Mejia said.
Reiland Rabaka, a professor in the Ethnic Studies department, brought up the way that individuals of different backgrounds can unite in the pursuit of change, becoming a family not by biology but by ideology.
“We are family in a sense that frequently flies in the face of racialization and heteropatriarchy because our sense of family and community transcends the social construction of race, gender, class, sexuality and nationality,” Rabaka said.
The panelists collaborated on ways to build community, inclusion and conversation in the classroom even if this effort seemed to take time from content.
Jennifer Ho and Linds Roberts discussed anti-Asian racism, COVID-19 and anti-racism work in the summit’s second panel.
Ho, currently an Ethnic Studies professor and Director of the Center for Humanities and the Arts, is the daughter of a Jamaican immigrant mother and Chinese refugee father.
She began the session by going over historic anti-Asian racism in America, discussing “Yellow Peril” as it was perpetuated by the state, organizations and individuals. She shifted to a discussion of the novel anti-Asian, anti-Chinese racism that has arisen since the start of the pandemic.
Anti-Black, anti-Asian racism and other forms of intersectional oppression have in common white supremacy, Ho went on to say.
“Any one of us can choose anti-racism, it is not about our identity,” Ho said, elaborating on the difference between anti-racism and not being a racist. “Not being racist is you being a decent human being, being an anti-racist means that you are educating yourself about the history of race and racism in the United States…then you have to do something.”
Linds Roberts built off of this idea of choice, reflecting on their own experience growing up in Georgia and Alabama where they were very aware of Black and white racism and then moving to Colorado which has its own “flavor of racism.”
“It’s easy as a white person, we’ve been often socialized, to act like we’ve got blinders on and racism can be in the periphery,” Roberts said.
The panelists continued their conversation with discussions of their pursuits of anti-racism and the meaning of representation.
The summit also included a campus “one read” of Ijeoma Oluo’s New York Times bestseller, “So You Want to Talk About Race.” Panelists, Gwendalynn Roebke, Sam Flaxman, and Amy Moreno discussed the book in the third session of the day.
“Anti-racism really involves action,” Moreno said.
A first-generation college student with a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, Moreno now serves as Director of Inclusive Culture at CU.
She notes that people need to start by reading the book—and re-reading it. She explains that Oluo’s book identifies key strategies, statements and topics that can help people to engage in productive conversations around race and eventually take action.
“When you’re asking for help to learn are you asking for help or are you expecting that certain people will serve you the information that you should pursue yourself,” Roebke said, encouraging participates to reflect on this question.
Roebke is an undergraduate student, McNair Scholar, and member of the Black Student Alliance.
“Take advantage of inconvenience and be someone who interjects and enacts change,” Roebke said, encouraging people to take action against acts of racism in those moments where it feels inconvenient.
The summit finished strong with “Heartwork: Finding Your Fire.” Indigenous storyteller, Tanya Winder discussed the importance of “Heartwork”.
Winder defines “heartwork” as “your purpose combined with your passion.”
“I realized I wanted to do something to help lessen people’s pain,” Winder said, explaining that one of her heartworks is working as the director of CU’s Upward Bound program. The program provides support and opportunities for college entrance for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Winder took time to introduce the participants to her family. “I personally believe that no matter our background, that we each have our ancestors, relatives or beloveds who have passed on, and I believe we carry them with us, and they’re looking out for us,” Winder said.
Winder went through a series of writing exercises, asking participants to reflect on the people who have impacted them, challenges they’re going through, and the relationship between joy, pain, love and their senses.
She ended the session with an original song entitled, “She Was the Rain.”