Wednesday, January 29, 2014

It's that time of year!

January means many things to many people.  For some readers it's application season (grad school, jobs) or the end of the letter-writing blitz.  It's also a time to reflect on the year ahead.  For me and my local university colleagues, it is a time to celebrate diversity through our annual campus Summit, an exciting time of hope and shared commitment to advancing our vision of a community where everyone learns, grows, and is respected.

Our annual Institute Diversity Summit draws 400-700 people to a series of workshops and panels, a keynote address and other events that inspire and inform.  It takes place usually a few days after Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday.  The program is broad; we strive to be inclusive of the many communities that make up a diverse campus.  The participants come away energized and eager to improve their local circumstances and are better prepared to do so through having the attention of the university administration, the support of a broad campus network, and learning tools to address micro-inequities and other injustices in the workplace.

The origin of this event was grass-roots, not top-down.  Five years ago a few faculty and staff got together and asked what we could we to promote a vision of positive change for equity and inclusion on campus.  Several people had already been running small workshops and events during our January intersession, so by joining forces we could bring greater visibility to our efforts and attract more people.  Knowing who the interested parties are is the first step to building a successful collaboration.

When I was in graduate school there came a time that I nearly dropped out because I wanted to do good in the world and wasn't sure that a PhD in astrophysics would allow me to do so.  I was mistaken!  Academia seems to give conflicting messages about our ideals: you should put your nose to the grindstone (or whatever the modern equivalent is for that dated phrase) to get ahead in your profession, yet we expect you to balance your career, personal life and passions outside work.  There's no easy resolution.  But the same can be said of most New Year's resolutions.

Still, making resolutions to improve oneself and one's community, and reflecting on them annually, is a great practice.  Every January I feel blessed to share this process with many others in our growing campus community devoted to equity and inclusion.