University leaders, students come together to talk about diversity, inclusion

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Understanding each other’s differences and learning from them was the focus of a recent forum that brought student leaders together with University officials for conversations to deepen their appreciation of the viewpoints of others.

The small group discussions were part of the University’s “All In” initiative, which is focused on the importance of having diverse and inclusive communities that are welcoming and respectful. An ongoing effort launched in October, “All In at Penn State” encourages all students, faculty, staff and friends of Penn State to take an active role in promoting an accepting climate, including through conversations with others in the community.

“We are looking to kick off what we hope will be a successful run of facilitated dialogues,” said Marcus Whitehurst, vice provost for Educational Equity. “This was an opportunity for the University’s leadership and student leaders to engage in discussions about race, gender, sexual orientation and all of the important areas of diversity and inclusion.”

At the same time, the conversations focused on listening to and offering different opinions — not just agreeing or tolerating.

“If we can’t see each other’s perspectives, we can’t be ‘All In.’ We have to reckon with them and find the decency in those perspectives,” said Laurie Mulvey, executive director of World in Conversation, a Penn State program that promotes cross-cultural dialogues.

Mulvey and others from World in Conversation facilitated the event, which brought Penn State President Eric Barron and the University’s senior leadership together with students to share personal experiences, opinions and ideas. The conversations, which took place in small groups, started with a question about ways the participants were different — aside from race, gender and sexual orientation — and grew from there.

Laurie Mulvey

Laurie Mulvey, executive director of World in Conversation, a Penn State program that promotes cross-cultural dialogue, led a discussion that brought University leaders, students and staff together to talk about diversity and inclusion. The conversations took place during the January 2017 President's Council meeting and were part of All In at Penn State, an ongoing University initiative.

Image: Patrick Mansell

“I think it’s great to have students as well as faculty involved in this,” said Meaghan Coleman, a senior in energy, business and finance, and president of the Student Athlete Advisory Board. “When we get people to understand where we’re coming from and share our voice, it helps create a greater understanding.”

Damon Sims, vice president for Student Affairs, said it was wonderful to see student leaders come together with the administrative leadership to discuss the issues.

“What I got out of it is that we need much more of this kind of dialogue at Penn State, and I hope that colleges and departments and organizations take this as a lead for them to do something similar to what we did today,” Sims said. “I’m always struck by the depth and thoughtfulness of our students. They have a lot to share, and we in administrative positions benefit tremendously from listening to them.”

As part of “All In at Penn State,” trained facilitators are available to lead discussions and answer questions for groups across the University.

Barron said he enjoyed hearing the broad range of perspectives during the conversations.

“People spoke from a variety of different perspectives: whether it was about vulnerability, about having conversations with people, about recognizing the value of individuals, about being more comfortable when you’re listening to someone who disagrees with you – and how to have that conversation instead of running from it,” Barron said. “We have a tremendous amount of potential to learn from each other.”

President Barron and a student

Penn State President Eric Barron and William Okrafo-Smart, a student and World in Conversation facilitator, participated in a conversation about diversity and inclusion during the January 2017 President's Council meeting, which brought University and student leaders together for small group talks as part of the University's ongoing effort, All In at Penn State.

Image: Patrick Mansell

The “All In” initiative, which kicked off in the fall semester with a visual event on the lawn of Old Main, is continuing throughout the year. In addition to starting conversations and raising awareness about the importance of equity, diversity and inclusion, All In is focused on encouraging members of the community to take action to foster a safe and open-minded environment that is respectful of everyone regardless of their backgrounds.

Pratyush Parsana, a junior in sociology and president of the Multicultural Greek Council, said it’s helpful to know how others are different and how they have lived different experiences.

“Accepting those differences is key to accepting that person. I feel that once everyone is included, that’s when we’re going to move forward as a community. Even though this initiative was started at Penn State, I hope it expands everywhere. I hope other schools look at us as a role model,” said Parsana, who will graduate next year. “I want to go out into the world and hopefully feel included there as well as here.”

Last Updated April 19, 2017