Embracing difficult conversations

The Inclusion Walk
Student initiative has led to a greater focus on diversity, equity and inclusion.

Amidst making great strides in increasing enrollment, adding new academic programs and renovating facilities, matters of diversity, equity and inclusion are working their way to the forefront of Western’s attention.

Earlier in the semester, passionate students from all corners of campus made clear that diversity is an absolutely essential component for a vibrant learning community. The administration and student organizations responded readily with initiatives that have shown a promising commitment to increasing diversity and promoting equity and inclusion across campus.

Campus Conversation

A “Conversation with Western Administration” was organized as an opportunity for student questions to be answered by senior administrators. The four topics slated for discussion were President Greg Salsbury’s relationship with students, diversity, environment and communication.

“This conversation is about creating understanding and laying groundwork for the future Western community,” said moderator Noelle Hagen, a member of the Board of Trustees.

The conversation clarified exactly what efforts are being pursued to better the university, where attention is necessary but yet to be manifested and the results of these efforts.

Salsbury reaffirmed his commitment to maintain closer contact with the student body and highlighted steady improvements in areas such as the university’s diversity and retention rates. Western’s increased selectivity rating and additional efforts in recruiting on the Front Range were also brought up as particular examples of efforts to increase diversity across campus.

More than anything, the dialogue clarified that every person on campus has a stake in making it a safe and welcoming environment and that open dialogue will be embraced no matter how difficult or contentious the subject matter is.

“The true benefits of diversity can only be experienced with open dialogue,” Salsbury said.

The Western community will inevitably face challenges, experience shortcomings and test the character of the individuals who are committed to betterment on the journey to a more diverse and inclusive community. Vice President of Student Affairs Gary Pierson has witnessed the development of the institution over the last two decades and is optimistic that the individuals who make up the Western community will persevere in making Western as diverse, equitable and inclusive as possible.

“What really makes us great are our people,” Pierson said.

Moving Mountains

Moving Mountains is an initiative of the Student Government Association (SGA) with the goal of creating awareness around issues of diversity, equity and inclusion. The Inclusion Walk, held at the Mountaineer Field House this past Thursday, was entirely student-led and acted as the pilot event.

“We want to promote courageous conversations and talking about difficult subjects,” said junior Jay Ytell, council for creative expression director.

Moving Mountains has recognized the difficulty of approaching conversations regarding sensitive topics and is committed to opening dialogue across campus.

Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs Melanie Hulbert delivered a powerful message that encouraged sharing stories of personal identity and in turn recognizing the stories and differences of others.

“It is wise to hurt for others and to take action for help … it is wise to listen and validate others and to be proud of who you are … it is wise to talk about problems on campus … it is wise to not settle on the current situation that has no easy answer … it is wise to settle for change and tough conversations,” Hulbert said.

Her words echoed across the open space of the field house filled with students, faculty, staff and administrators.

“To move mountains tomorrow is to move stones today,” she concluded.

The Inclusion Walk followed Hulbert’s speech and involved everyone in attendance coming together to start fresh dialogues with people who they otherwise would not have talked to. The crowd made multiple laps around the indoor track and continued conversing with their newfound peers for the rest of the evening. 

“It was an extraordinarily well put on event that made everyone feel more optimistic and hopefully more appreciative of Western than when they arrived,” Salsbury said after the event.

Initiatives such as Campus Conversations and Moving Mountains are not absolute solutions to complex issues. What they are, as Hulbert said, are the first stones being moved toward the greater goal becoming as diverse, equitable and inclusive a campus as possible. The large turnout and positive reactions to initiatives like these are definitive indications of a strong commitment to student success and institutional progress.

Story and Photos by Peter Noon

Tuesday, March 14, 2017 - 12:45pm