Introspection urges progressive action

Diversity, equity, inclusion and justice initiatives require cultural examination, community commitment

Ya’Ke Smith was appointed associate dean at Moody College last year, and his charge was not only addressing issues of diversity, equity and inclusion but also working to fix areas that need improvement.

Part of that work is looking within, examining climate and cultural practices and generating conversations that urge the community toward progressive justice.

“How do you make sure that what we are teaching our students is not coming from just one vantage point?” Smith said.

Smith invited Dr. Skyller Walkes, Assistant Dean of Diversity, Equity, Accessibility & Inclusion at the College of Pharmacy to facilitate “Decolonizing the Organizational Agenda: Radical Inclusion in Curriculum & Organizational Practices” in August. The two-hour workshop engaged close to 100 faculty, staff and graduate students in thoughtful dialogue via Zoom.

Skyller Walkes

“It has to be effectively facilitated in a way that pushes us to a level of discomfort,” Walkes said. “It cannot be presented in a strictly didactic manner because when you do that, you are removing the living, breathing individuals who are all shaped by their reality.”

Walkes guided participants through personal and organizational assessments. Discussions and engagement were disarming, but at the same time authentic and honest. Walkes created an empathetic and open environment for participants to challenge themselves.

She is a firm believer in establishing a strong community contract from the beginning because self-explorations might not be genuine if the group cannot honor differences in the space.

“When you establish a firm sense of community, you establish shared values, and you feel beholden to one another. Hopefully, I was able to facilitate that for the group because that’s how you go deep,” Walkes said.

Joe Straubhaar, a faculty member in the School of Journalism and Media, has seen first-hand that there is a need to help students find resources. He shared stories that students face difficulties balancing their school work while providing income for their families. Smith and his team developed an enhanced Diversity, Equity and Inclusion website this summer, which includes a catalogue of resources to aid students.

“This workshop made me crave a more in-depth conversation with fewer people at some point. I definitely came away with a lot of things to think about and to learn to be more sensitive and more responsive to people’s needs,” Straubhaar said.

Donna DeCesare, journalism and media professor, is making a more concerted efforted this semester to provide teachable moments about normative assumptions or that model culturally aware and inclusive representation practices.

“My experience as a participant in the workshop led me to some new thoughts about ways to challenge student understandings about diversity and representation while maintaining inclusivity and respect across differences,” DeCesare said.

Walkes’ deep-diving workshop is the first of planned, intentional programming at Moody College, with the focus on maintaining connection and accountability toward active progress. “Recognizing and Interpreting Implicit Bias in the Workplace with Binta Brown,” is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 8, and Moody College’s office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion will host the first DEI Conference in Spring 2021.

“Skyller sends you away with a lot of questions that you have to ask yourself. That’s one of the things that I really wanted for us to walk away with,” Smith said. “Maybe we don’t have all the answers, but at least we walked away more curious, wanting to further interrogate ourselves.”

Lizzie Chen
Digital Content Coordinator