Professionals tackle the adversity in finding diversity during panel

Four panelists gathered in UC 303 on March 11 to discuss the systemic and social barriers that prevent DEI in the U.S., and how a lack of it can lead to a stagnant society on a narrow track.

Henrietta Williams Pichon, dean of the College of Education, opened by driving home a common theme throughout the evening, saying that “We don’t always understand the importance of representation.”

The moderator of the event, assistant professor for the Department of Counseling and Health Services Alfredo Palacios, asked the panelists how the lack of representation affects them.

Theresa Newsom, president and founder of the Black Educator’s Network, said that people need to ask themselves how they can make people feel like they belong, citing that the world is about collaboration and that diversity of thought helps them learn from each other.

Christopher Kelley, an associate professor of behavioral sciences and leadership at the Air Force Academy, feels that working within a mostly white male staff dampens efficiency, noting that elitism is embedded in his discipline.

With an introduction course in sociology being required for 25% of incoming cadets, Kelley hopes the class will change perspectives, and that the military’s size drives systemic change.

Keeley Griego, digital and community educator for Inside Out Youth Services, an organization that provides support to young people in the LGBTQ+ community, said that supporting youth is a must.

She said that seeing successful queer adults in the community is instrumental in helping the LGBTQ+ youth flourish, citing that many transgender people attempt suicide before the age of 25 due to a lack of safe spaces in the community.

Louis Hoffman, a Ph.D. lecturer in the UCCS psychology department, commented on the perception of cultural competency from a privileged background. He said that cultural competency, whether being employed by a company, organization or a fellow practitioner, is sometimes used as more of a marketing strategy.

“Most people can say the right things, but can you do the right things as well?” he said.

Next, the panel commented on barriers they have faced in representation in the real world.

Griego said it’s sad when teachers want to support an LGBTQ+ student but are prevented from doing so because of policies that are put in place by the system. She’s experienced the hostile climate for the LGBTQ+ community, recalling hate mail she’s received.

Hoffman added that the environment is regularly hostile and these hostile reactions to things, like critical race theory, are how authorities can assert their power to shut down perspectives.

Newsom said that lack of praise for things like Black History Month is a part of the problem, noting if Black people do not know their value as a people, it’s hard to fight for themselves and progress in our society.

“We are becoming more silent,” she said, “and who is it benefiting?”

The final question was a look to the future and invited the panelists to show how people can open the door.

Hoffman said people need to change the abusive and oppressive status quo by not only diversifying leadership but maintaining that diversity over time.

To do this, Kelley has found that being strategic, and appealing to people’s decency is an excellent method to work from a lower power.

Griego called on people in the community to vote, especially at a local level, reassuring that everyone’s voice matters when it comes to embracing and enabling change.

Dr. Newsom echoed the notion. “Speak up, speak out and speak loud!” she said.

A member from the audience asked Hoffman and Griego how to handle companies using pro LGBTQ+ rhetoric as a marketing strategy.

Hoffman suggested people combat this behavior by calling it out because they are hurt by it and that good relationships with genuine people are more important than good PR. Griego followed up by noting there needs to be action behind company words.

Another audience member asked why the environment in America is so hostile, saying that they were from out of the country and had trouble understanding where it came from. Hoffman said the environment has been created by increasing polarization that has pit two sides of the same coin against one another.

(From left to right, Christopher Kelley, Keeley Griego, Theresa Newsom, Louis Hoffman)