Students, faculty, staff tackle what it means to be inclusive

February 15, 2016

An overflow crowd of nearly 200 students, faculty and staff participated in an event late last week aimed at getting people to explore what it means to be an inclusive campus.

Organizers of "Student Voices at CU: What Racial and Ethnic Inclusion Means for Our Campus" had planned for about 80 attendees.

“It was a great turnout by faculty, staff and students, which is a testament of the support to sustain the conversations that can hopefully lead to effectual action,” student organizer Arthur Antoine said.

The event kicked off with a performance piece by a group of CU-Boulder students who stood up at their respective tables in the crowded Aspen Rooms at the University Memorial Center to share experiences they – or other diverse students – have had on campus. The statements were mostly taken from data released last year in a CU Engage report centered on the experiences of students of color at CU-Boulder, entitled "Students of Color Are Motivated Agents of Change: Why Aren't We Joining Your Programs?"

Vanessa Roberts, CU-Boulder graduate student, instructor and event organizer, said she believed in the power of theater and performance to transform spaces. One student stood up and read: "Where are you from? (Pause.) No, really?" Another: “Inclusivity is everyone's responsibility, not just those that are marginalized. We all have a stake in making CU a safe and celebrating space."

"The performance of the data created an exciting atmosphere and invited participants to approach the event from a new lens," Roberts said.  

The performance closed with all the participating students reading together: “We need to learn to work together. It is not merely the issue of some, but rather for a concern for all. This is no longer just a conversation, but a unified voice calling for accountability. We must begin to work together."

Following the performance, participants were asked to consider, "How can CU-Boulder become a more inclusive campus across lines of race, ethnicity, and national background?"

Participants paired off with someone they didn't already know to discuss a time when they felt included at CU-Boulder based on factors of race and ethnicity and a time when they felt excluded as a result of those same factors.

Toward the end of the 1.5-hour program, participants discussed key questions in small groups, including: 

  • How can CU-Boulder become a more inclusive campus for people of different racial, ethnic and national backgrounds?
  • What does inclusive excellence mean to you?
  • Specifically, what can you do, or your office or organization do?
  • What would you want to see from your professors or program leaders?
  • Can you think of an example of what that would look or feel like?

In closing, participants shared their thoughts and responses to the guiding questions on index cards, which were collected by event organizers. The event organizing committee is reviewing the information shared by participants and analyzing the data to determine next steps.

The discussion was sponsored by the system-wide Ethnic Minority Affairs Committee (EMAC) and coordinated by students, staff and faculty in coordination with multiple campus entities, including: CU Engage; the Center for Unity and Engagement; the Ethnic Minority Affairs Committee; the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Community Engagement; and the BOLD Center.

Student organizer Melissa Arreola Peña said she is excited to see what comes next.

“I think we have reached a point where we are ready to build a bigger movement and take action," Peña said. “This event was very empowering to me because I know that by coming together as students, faculty and staff we will be able to have a greater impact in the CU community."

CU Engage and the "Student Voices" event organizers encourage everyone at CU-Boulder to participate in the upcoming Diversity Summit from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday,  Feb.  18. For more information on follow-up actions and events, sign up for the CU Engage e-newsletter. To view photos from the "Student Voices" event, please visit CU Engage's Flickr site.