Listening sessions begin as part of diversity and inclusion efforts

Barrett and junior Jamil Fuller discuss diversity initiatives at the most recent listening session.
Photo by Allegra Taylor

Over the past two weeks, Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion and Associate Dean of the Faculty Kimberly Barrett has held four listening sessions for students and staff with concerns or ideas relating to diversity and inclusion at Lawrence. Some of the topics that came up at the sessions were focused on the need for more diversity in clubs, possible improvements to curriculum and better inclusion training programs for students and staff.

One thing Barrett hopes to achieve by holding these sessions is to create a more open environment. She emphasized the importance of discussion in an inclusive campus, “One of the things we know needs to happen is we need to create places for authentic dialogue.”

She continued, “I’ll have a student advisory board made up of all different groups—including the groups that are more conservative—getting people from around the spectrum to talk about and act for the common good. It’ll be an opportunity for students to talk and organize together.”

“A centerpiece of our diversity work will be inclusive pedagogy,” Barrett addressed a student’s concern about classroom inclusion. “It’s important that people learn of different ways to deal with diversity in the classroom. In terms of orientation for students, faculty and staff, it needs to be a more prominent part.” Barrett also pointed out that trainings need to be more integrated into things, due to the importance of inclusion and its application to all facets of life on campus.

Another topic discussed was the need for better communication between students, student organizations, staff and faculty. “I am about to hire a social media intern,” Barrett stated. “They’ll help students connect with each other in terms of things that are going on, and they’ll help me connect with students. I’ll have meetings with the faculty and staff, as well.”

One student inquired about the various ways to get involved for those who are not members of minority groups but are interested in helping. Barrett recommended several student groups that are dedicated to promoting and supporting diversity and social justice such as the Committee on Diversity Affairs (CODA) and Black Student Union (BSU).

“We’re all at different places so we all need to be gentle with each other in this work,” Barrett said. “But no matter what your intent, you have to really look at the impact of what you did.”

Barrett has spent much of her career working to promote diversity and inclusion on college campuses and elsewhere. She has provided sensitivity training for schools, community groups and businesses, and dealt with issues of sexual harassment, homophobia, race relations and prejudice. “I’ve been doing this work for a long time and I’m still learning and growing, and the landscape changes,” Barrett said. “This is the work I’m passionate about, so I feel very fortunate to be able to do it.”

The two remaining diversity and inclusion listening sessions are for faculty and will take place on Oct. 18 from 5 to 6:30 p.m. and Oct. 20 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Thomas Steitz Hall of Science 202.