Black History Month keynote speaker brings message on inclusivity to Western

To conclude campus-wide studies relating to Black History Month, Western's Black Student Alliance welcomed Derek Greenfield, Ph.D. to campus for a talk on inclusion and diversity.

In an address entitled “Dare to be Powerful,” Greenfield encouraged Mountaineers to build community during challenging times. Joined by performers, student leaders, and faculty, Greenfield spoke passionately on some of the biggest issues facing students today.

Held in Western’s university theater, the black-tie keynote address encouraged attendees to leave the room with a newfound respect for other people. The event was sponsored by numerous organizations on Western’s campus, including the Student Government, Black Student Alliance, the Office of the President and the Lead Office.

Greenfield has spent decades working to spread the message of inclusivity in higher education, government and business. His address included spoken word poetry, inventive audience interaction and powerful truths.

Throughout his talk, Greenfield encouraged students and faculty to switch seats as an example of how to interact with unfamiliar people and ideas. The goal, he said, should be supportive listening.

“This is a community where we care about each other,” Greenfield said at the end of the activity.

This portion of the discussion emphasized Western’s interactions with the broader community of Gunnison. His spoken-word poem on the Mountaineer identity culminated with a reminder of how much students care about one another. He stressed the importance of community and invited audience members to participate in an exercise in caring.

Those listening in the audience were asked to form pairs with unfamiliar people, sharing for a few minutes the aspects of their life that mattered most to them. The partners were then asked to repeat what was said. After this exercise, Greenfield used the interactions as an example of how powerful good listening can be within a small community like Western.

“We need one another. We can always reach out. Now we move mountains together. Diversity is just counting heads—inclusion is making sure all heads count.”

This message was emphasized in many ways throughout the evening. Following the event, students and faculty reflected on Greenfield’s message.

“I think he got people out of their comfort zone,” said Sally Romero, director of multicultural affairs at Western. “His focus was definitely positive.”

Many students felt that diversity and inclusion needed to be brought into the classroom setting, something Greenfield noted in his message during his poetry reading.

“These issues affect students not only in their personal lives but in their academic lives as well,” said Jorge Zarate, president of Amigos.

Some of the most important lessons for Mountaineers may take place outside of the classroom on rock formations, downhill runs and outdoor laboratories. However, this lesson put a difficult topic in a familiar setting, allowing those who call Western home a chance to make it even more welcoming.

Story by Anna Luhillier. | Photos by Christopher Wilson.


View the whole keynote here.

Date: 
Tuesday, March 7, 2017 - 1:00pm