Diversity committee continues to build community in a virtual environment

Stephanie Koons
April 20, 2021

Promoting diversity, fostering dialogue and creating a climate that encourages a sense of community and belonging all are major objectives of the College of Education’s Diversity and Community Enhancement Committee (DCEC). In the past year, with the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting normal campus life and the Black Lives Matter movement putting an increased focus on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) issues, the DCEC has continued to drive community engagement through virtual events.

“What (DCEC) became during this past summer and during this really, really difficult year, is a place where anyone, regardless of where they are in their DEI journey, can drop in, connect, find out what’s going on in the college regarding DEI and also potentially get involved in something that’s going on,” said DCEC chair Seria Chatters, adjunct associate professor of education in the Department of Educational Psychology, Counseling, and Special Education (EPCSE) and director of equity and inclusivity for the State College Area School District.

María Schmidt, assistant dean of the Office of Education and Social Equity (OESE), said that while the College of Education went through iterations of diversity committees and task forces in the past, the DCEC was established in 2002 as a standing college committee. DCEC organizes events and activities that provide opportunities for faculty, staff and students in the college to engage in community conversations on anti-racism and social justice.

“Over the course of the years, we’ve had a number of different types of events and initiatives to promote diversity and improve the climate of the college,” said J.T. Taylor, associate professor of education (special education) in EPCSE.

During the pandemic, DCEC has shifted its programming to a virtual format. Since spring 2020, Michelle Knotts, assistant professor of education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction (C&I), and Holly Klock, a doctoral candidate in C&I, have been coordinating “Community in Conversation: Equity and Education in These Times,” a monthly reading and discussion series of a shared text.

The Diversity in Education Conference, a free event designed as a forum for discussion and learning about working with diverse populations of students, also was transferred to Zoom. The 2021 conference, which was held Feb. 6, included discussions around the topics of “LGBTQ+ Issues in Education,” “Working with Students with Cultural and Exceptional Differences” and “Teaching, Learning and Social Justice.”

 “DCEC was efficient at quickly adapting to meet the challenge of working amid a pandemic,” said Schmidt. “Using virtual environments and meaningful communications, DCEC seized the challenge with continued community conversations that addressed current needs and circumstances and promoted a sense of belonging and connection. Their work has helped not only in surviving this crisis but making us stronger as a community.”

With the racial trauma that has gripped the nation, the DCEC has promoted discourse around those issues.

“We’re slowly evolving in that sense and trying to incorporate the current climate into events,” said Rhea Banerjee, a fourth-year doctoral candidate in the Counselor Education program and graduate assistant for DCEC.

OESE, the Equity Team and DCEC co-hosted a college-wide discussion via Zoom following a talk to the Penn State community by Ibram X. Kendi, author of “How to Be an Antiracist.”

“Those kinds of events are bringing us together as a community to provide an opportunity to ‘talk back,’” said Chatters.

According to Klock, the DCEC is building community in the College of Education incrementally by bringing interconnected groups of people together.

“The spaces that DCEC is setting up are normalizing getting multiple people from different backgrounds together to have these conversations,” she said.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated April 20, 2021