Over the past year, many U.S. colleges have begun to feel “unprecedented threats” to the advancement of DEI, according to Webster. The conference organizers therefore sought to deeply explore topics such as health and healing, immigrants and refugees, gender and sexual identity, educational equity, neurodiversity, accessibility and diverse workforce development.
Panelists provided resources, strategies, case studies and best practices that “help move individuals and organizations from alliance to systemic change.”
Michelle Zauner, former recipient of Webster’s Gamechanger of the Year Award, gave a keynote presentation discussing her New York Times best-selling memoir and upcoming film, Crying at H Martin which she describes growing up as a Korean-American and creating her own identity.
“For many years I didn’t have anyone who looked like me, who could support me and help me progress”
The section highlighted the journey of foreign students, Coming to America: Meeting the Needs of Our Immigrant Neighborswhere panelists discussed myths and misconceptions about the immigrant experience in the US.
Igho Ekakitie, founder of igowithIGHO, shared stories from his own journey to becoming a permanent resident in the US, including the challenges he continues to experience with justice.
Ekakitie created the podcast to amplify the voices of international students to promote interest in international experiences.
Discussing myths about immigrants, Ekakitie said, “There’s a difference between what you’ve heard and the person standing in front of you.”
Nisha Ray-Chaudhuri, a visiting assistant professor at Webster University, agreed and cautioned against perpetuating preconceived stereotypes. “Don’t make assumptions about people.” [you] meet. Ask them what it is [they] need. Any assumption we make may turn out to be insensitive.”
DEI in the workplace took center stage at the conference as experts discussed current challenges and what the future may hold for workplace diversity efforts.
Ashley Storman, DEI Manager at New Honor Society said, “Being aware of the issues and concerns, it became my personal mission to implement programs and strategies to empower people of color. [to work] as their authentic selves.’
Storman suggested that leaders who want to implement DEI initiatives in their workplace begin with a “listening tour,” consisting of qualitative interviews to learn how employees explain the current company culture.
She cautioned against surface-level efforts like those that often surround history months and cultural celebrations. “We have to go deeper if we want to change the culture.”
Ebony Jones, director of inclusion and diversity at Accenture, a federal services consulting group, spoke about why workplace-supported DEI initiatives are important.
“I know how important representation is. For many years I didn’t have someone who looked like me who could support me and help me progress, so I wanted to create opportunities for myself and others in the company.
“DEI is a journey and culture change is very difficult.” She recommended implementing DEI principles in all aspects of the workplace, “so it becomes how we do business,” adding, “That’s when you start to have cultural changes,” Jones offered.
Jones argued that while the US as a nation “has made great strides [in DEI]we still have a long way to go.”
During the three days of the session, Webster announced the winners of two awards for individuals who have uniquely championed DEI’s efforts. The 2023 Game Changer Award went to Quinton Ward, co-creator of Speak Up St. Louis. And the Champion for All Award went to NY Times bestselling author Lyah LaFlore-Ituen.