Cultural Competency Symposium examines diversity and inclusivity

On Tuesday, May 10, the Diversity Action Council in partnership with the Office of Global Diversity and Inclusion will host the second annual Cultural Competency Symposium. It’s the culmination of a year-long training series that explored race, religion, sexuality, gender, disability and socioeconomic stratification.

“At a time when this campus, in terms of demographics, is changing, there couldn’t be a more important time for the campus community to come together and really establish a robust program that addresses very timely issues that affect students, faculty and staff,” said Christian Aniciete, the co-chair of the Diversity Action Council.

The symposium is meant to help the university achieve its five strategic goals of elevating student success, advancing excellence in teaching and research, extending leadership in community engagement, expanding commitment to equity, and innovating for long-term stability.

“The goal is to explore the ways and develop the skills by which we can take action as individuals and as a collective to continuously improve how we understand differences along the full dimensions of diversity, recognize and overcome implicit and overt bias, challenge ignorance to defeat ideologies and behaviors rooted in hate caused by ignorance, and address the myriad of ways that microaggressions tear at individuals and thus us all by learning and utilizing bystander intervention skill sets,” said Dr. Carmen Suarez, the vice president for Global Diversity and Inclusion.

The day will consist of a variety of workshops focused on microaggressions in the classroom, how to create a curriculum that is LGBTQ-inclusive, retaining students of color, reconstructing the truth about ability/disability and creating a respectful campus environment.

Carmen Rubio, the executive director of Latino Network and board member of the state of Oregon’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission, will provide the keynote speech. Afterward, lunch will be provided with a space for participants to connect with speakers, and discuss, reflect and identify steps of action.

This year, the symposium will be extended with an additional session aimed at supervisors called “Diversity and Inclusion: A Catalyst for Developing a High-Performance Organization and a Respectful and Inclusionary Workplace.” This will be led by Frank Garcia, principal of Garcia and Associates, a strategy firm that specializes in topics like change, leadership, diversity, inclusion and public policy.

Aniciete is excited about the mixture of participating speakers and said it’s been a collaborative, campus-wide effort. “It was really important for the planning committee to leverage the immense talent and knowledge on our very own campus, combined with expertise in the greater community,” Aniciete said.

As a graduate of Portland State, Aniciete is happy to see other former students taking on staff leadership roles after graduation. “It’s really exciting to see students that I’ve had the chance to work with transition to roles and become change agents,” Aniciete said. “They’re one of the various experts that are contributing content to the symposium.”

Kirsten Keith is one such change agent and the assistant coordinator of the Queer Resource Center. Keith will be leading a workshop on LGBTQ curriculum to discuss how faculty can include queer and trans narratives in their subject matter, regardless of the field.

For example, a STEM course that studies Alan Turing, a leading computer scientist and mathematician, would identify him as a queer man. “Bringing him up and talking about his importance and giving some humanity to our scientists and how they can have personal lives and how that impacts their ability to be effective workers can humanize them and give queer and trans folks role models,” Keith said.

In addition, Keith said the symposium is meant to be light on theory and heavy on practical information that can be implemented immediately.

“There’s a real, urgent need for the campus to continue learning and thinking about how our most vulnerable students, staff and faculty are maybe not feeling as welcome as we’d like them to,” Keith said. “The symposium is designed to give folks practical skills and educational tools to help make campus as safe as possible for as many people as possible.”

Jen Dugger, the director of the Disability Resource Center, is also leading a workshop and feels that the effort to keep learning about other identities, cultures and communities is crucial. “We need to always be pushing ourselves to learn more about the ways in which society marginalizes groups, and build on what we know about infusing equity in what we do,” Dugger said.

Aniciete also noted that the symposium and training series are happening at a time of exciting developments and progress on campus, such as the new resource centers and the formation of task forces, both of which are meant to foster a more diverse and equitable academic community.

But the Diversity Action Council and GDI also face many challenges as they develop programs and work toward their goals, such as resources, funding, and building momentum from year to year as students come and go.

Nonetheless, they are expecting high attendance and encouraging people to register early. While they anticipate that this year’s symposium will be a success, it’s just the beginning.

“The work doesn’t end here. There’s so much more work to be done,” Aniciete said. “As an alum, [I find it] really exciting to get to witness change on campus. It’s taken a little while, but it makes me very optimistic and proud.”