Addressing diversity, equity in higher ed the focus of 'All In' conference

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The University’s inaugural “All In” conference took place April 18, featuring speakers who are national leaders in educational equity. Participants from across Pennsylvania had the opportunity to learn more about how other institutions, faculty and staff approach diversity and inclusion at their schools and to share ideas about what can be put into action at Penn State.

The daylong conference, “All In at Penn State: A Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion,” held at the Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel, drew about 400 faculty, administrators and staff, including at least one representative from 20 Penn State campuses.

Marcus Whitehurst, vice provost for Educational Equity, said organizers of the conference hope it serves as a catalyst for new thought, new initiatives, new conversations and new ideas.

“Today’s dialogue made clear that we have lofty goals while simultaneously facing ever-present challenges to achieve them,” Whitehurst said. “Nevertheless, we do not and will not give up. Why? Because what we’re doing matters, and even in seemingly small ways we have the power to make a positive difference each and every day. While our office serves as a catalyst and advocates for Penn State’s diversity and inclusion efforts, your work is critical in translating important ideas into meaningful action.”

Recognizing personal bias and how it affects teaching and learning; how to make diversity an actionable and accountable practice; and implementing change and best practices in the minority hiring process were topics of the conference. The keynote speaker was Sylvia Hurtado, a professor in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA, who spoke about “Building a Campus Climate for Diversity.”

Among the topics Hurtado covered were encouraging faculty and staff to increase students’ awareness about bias; understand how to develop inclusive practices not only in the classroom, but in programming; how students learn from each other; and research on the relationship between bias and discrimination and a sense of belonging.

“When students actually perceive that faculty or staff members recognize them and take time to validate who they are and also act as a sponsor responsible for their development, it really has an impact,” Hurtado said.

Hurtado is director of the Higher Education Research Institute, which houses the Cooperative Institutional Research Program, the longest-running empirical study of higher education involving data collection on students and faculty.

Other speakers were: Richard McGee, a professor of medical education and associate dean for professional development at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine; John Matsui, the co-founder and director of the nationally renowned Biology Scholars Program at the University of California, Berkeley; and George M. Langford, distinguished professor of neuroscience and professor of biology at Syracuse University.

Matsui, who is chair of the Coalition for Excellence and Diversity in Mathematics, Science and Engineering, which is developing a campus-wide effort to recruit and retain low income, first generation and underrepresented ethnic minority students in STEM fields, focused on lessons from the Biology Scholars Program. He said the goal of the program is to enlarge and diversify the pool of students who succeed — developing talent.

He said of the Berkeley undergraduates who have participated in the program over the years since 1992, 60 percent are underrepresented ethnic minorities, 70 percent are women and 80 percent come from low income first generation backgrounds.

“Coming [to college] less well prepared does not mean you aren’t going to do well if you have the proper environment,” Matsui said, noting that students in his program enter with lower SAT scores and high school GPAs than biology majors at-large, but graduate in equivalent percentages with competitive GPAs.

He also talked about Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Inclusive Excellence initiatives, the focus of which is to engage all students in science and build lasting institutional capacities for inclusion.

“The overarching goal of this initiative and the others is to shift the responsibility from a localized responsibility — an office, a program, a few individuals — to the entire institution,” Matsui said

Doing so also keeps those who are really committed to this work from burning out and means that if someone involved with the program leaves, it will continue.

Along with the speakers and panel discussions, the conference included a research poster session for undergraduates and the announcement of the winners of the University-wide “All In at Penn State” achievement awards.

Two people — Patricia Silveyra, assistant professor of pediatrics and a research associate in the Penn State College of Medicine; and Candice Crutchfield, a junior who is a Schreyer Honors College Scholar majoring in criminology and communication arts and sciences — were chosen for the award which was created to honor members of the University community who help Penn State achieve its mission of being a leader in research, learning and engagement by embracing diversity and affecting the world in positive and enduring ways.

The poster session provided undergraduates with opportunities to present their work to faculty, administrators and others at the conference. Student participants came from a range of fields in the sciences, arts and humanities.

Madeleine Zalenski, a sophomore studying biochemistry and Spanish, was showing a poster focused on two proteins involved in the formation of microtubules, “the railroad tracks along which microproteins can traffic cargo through your neurons and send signals.”

Zalenski said she appreciated the meaning behind the conference and that it shows the value of increasing diversity and inclusivity and “that we are all in.”

“This poster presentation is a really good example of that,” Zalenski said. “People from all different backgrounds are doing this research and they all did it at Penn State, so it’s showing what you can accomplish at Penn State no matter where you come from.”

The conference is part of the University’s ongoing “All In” initiative, aimed at spotlighting the importance of diversity and inclusion, and encouraging members of the University community to take an active role in promoting diversity, have respectful conversations about it and create welcoming communities.

Executive Vice President and Provost Nick Jones, who gave the opening remarks, said that Penn State has a rich history of diversity and inclusion and does many things well, but there is always more that can and should be done to foster inclusivity.

He noted that since the kick-off of “All In” in October 2016, individuals and groups have seized these opportunities with events at every campus supporting the initiative.

“By reflecting on ways in which the University can foster meaningful dialogue, by actually asking the question ‘Are you All in?’ we continue to remind each other that diversity and inclusion, equity, respect and community, remain core values at Penn State. These values represent ethical aspirations that are intrinsic to what everyone at this University does every day. They are not just buzz words. We live these values.”

Support for the conference came from the offices of the Executive Vice President and Provost and the Vice Provost for Educational Equity, the Millennium Scholars Program, Conferences and Institutes, Outreach and Online Education, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

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Last Updated April 27, 2017