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Launching Lerner's Diversity Council

Photos by Kathy F. Atkinson

UD’s Lerner Diversity Council celebrates at sold-out launch party

As the University of Delaware works to embody the principle of inclusive excellence, groups like the Lerner Diversity Council (LDC) at UD’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics, made up of students, faculty and staff representatives, will help to support and carry out the University’s efforts to strengthen diversity, educate the community and improve campus climate.

To celebrate the establishment of the LDC, Lerner College students, faculty and staff enjoyed international food and active discussion of campus diversity at the LDC launch party.

Jennifer Joe, Whitney Family Professor of Accounting and Lerner ’s chief diversity advocate, called the launch party a “leap of faith,” as the council had no way to gauge the college’s initial level of excitement about the LDC.

That leap of faith paid off, as the event was sold out with a waiting list. Lerner faculty, staff and students from 16 states and 12 countries packed the house at the event.

“To me, that speaks to the fact that people are interested and want this to continue,” Joe said.

“It was heartening to see so many people in attendance at the Lerner Diversity Council’s recent event,” said Provost Domenico Grasso. “I greatly appreciate the support from Lerner College’s students, faculty and staff for the University’s efforts to foster and strengthen diversity on our campus. Part of our educational mission at UD is to offer learning experiences that prepare our students to live in an increasingly diverse and global world, and we know that diversity among our students, faculty and staff is central to that mission.”

During the event, Joe described the theme of “Diverse paths to one Lerner College.” Each attendee’s nametag displayed their home state or country, which encouraged conversation about individual backgrounds and experiences, and the event included a tasting menu featuring foods from around the world.

“We want to welcome diverse views and diverse perspectives, diverse abilities and diverse backgrounds in Lerner College,” Joe said. “But we don’t want to make a milkshake, we want to make a salad. We want everyone to bring their unique talents within Lerner, and we want to celebrate what each person brings to the college.”

Lerner Dean Bruce Weber also spoke during the launch party, which he described as “bringing people together at the start of a journey.”

Weber discussed the mandate that universities face today to make higher education accessible, affordable and something that generates opportunities for everyone. He also encouraged members of the audience to reflect on their own experiences.

“Everybody knows something about diversity,” Weber said. “And I want you to think about that, and think about where your diversity lessons came from.”

Weber also spoke about the importance of Lerner College being a part of the solution as UD works to make inclusive excellence a key part of its culture.

“We need to be doing the things that eliminate in-group/out-group distinctions, with all participants invited and assessed equally, and having equal opportunities,” Weber said. “We’re going to have more chances to interact like this, and begin the conversations about how we break down unproductive distinctions. We will enable every single Lerner College student, and therefore every graduate of Lerner College when they go on to work in an industry, to not recognize those distinctions.”

“We’ve got a great project in front of us,” he continued. “I know I’ve got a great partner, Jennifer Joe, to help lead us there. But I also know it’s going to take a lot of work from a lot of us to realize this vision.”

The future of the LDC

So what will this work look like in the coming year? Joe explained that the LDC will focus on three initial goals:

• Building community and college climate;

• Curricular and co-curricular transformation; and

• Strengthening outreach and engagement.

The first event that the LDC will host next year will be a Thursday, Feb. 9, LDC Lunch and Learn sponsored by multinational professional services network PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). The lunch focuses on the topic of being “color brave” instead of “colorblind.”

PwC’s Zahra Safa attended the LDC launch party to discuss the difference between these terms.

“At PwC we chose to be color brave,” Safa said, adding this means that “we encourage our employees to have meaningful dialogues about current events that are happening in the news, and share their different backgrounds and where they come from.”

“We’re so excited and honored to bring this color brave series to campus,” she continued. “And I’m so thankful and grateful that the University of Delaware is partnering with us, and is taking initiative to be color brave and to start these dialogues on campus.”

The LDC will host events throughout the semester, including Lunch and Learn events on Friday, March 10; Friday, April 14; and Friday, May 12.

In terms of long-term strategic goals, Joe said that she’d like to see the LDC become a core part of the Lerner College. Specifically, she said, the LDC’s goals are to see the Lerner College fully embrace diversity, to see diversity go beyond a buzzword and become an active part of the college’s goals, mission and strategy.

Joe was also sure to discuss her gratitude for the members of the LDC for “saying yes,” for committing their time and energy to the council. The group, she said, worked collaboratively to create the council’s goals and agenda.

Student response to LDC launch party

Lerner student James Dutton, like many of the students at the LDC launch party, said that he didn’t know much about the LDC before attending.

“That’s what I’m here for,” said Dutton, who also described it as a good opportunity to network and to get to know more people around the Lerner College.

Courtney Oort, UD fashion merchandising student, described the event as “a good display of diversity on campus.”

In her own experiences in campus diversity, Oort said, “Freshman year I got to meet so many different people on my floor. It was an enriching experience.”

Lerner student Kayla Angeline said that she hadn’t “experienced much diversity on campus,” but that she’s hoping to get a job soon where she would work as a mentor to international students.

“I think some people just aren’t interested in diversity, and exchange students can feel out of place,” Angeline said.

Joe said that a number of students approached her at the LDC launch party to discuss their own impressions and experiences.

One master’s student, Joe said, was so excited about the LDC’s work that she asked to become the council’s first alumni representative next year.

An international student described this event to Joe as “the first event that he ever attended where he felt welcomed and embraced by the campus community.”

“To me that was such a positive statement,” Joe said. “That makes the whole thing worth it.”

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