2015 National Conference
on Diversity, Race & Learning highlights

The Conference Charge and Keynote speakers at the 21st Annual National Conference on Diversity, Race & Learning shared a common thread in their remarks: talking across boundaries of any kind – age, race, geography, faith, orientation – requires a diverse set of minds and will bring forth an abundance of invisible talent and dimension. This year’s conference was made possible with the support of its signature sponsors: The Ohio State University College of Nursing, Panera Bread, Cardinal Health, Honda of America Manufacturing, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, Abercrombie & Fitch, Kegler Brown Hill + Ritter, as well as several Ohio State academic units. 

The two-part conference included a “Pre-Conference” day that focused on training and best practices in recruiting and supporting faculty and staff of color at predominately white institutions; building the bridge for diversity and inclusion in the workplace; diversity and inclusion in reviving and strengthening STEM initiatives; and the psychology of multiculturalism in schools. Participants could also attend a workshop about how white privilege can undermine diversity, inclusion and equity initiatives presented by Debby Irving, racial justice educator and the author of Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race.

Yvette McGee Brown, former Ohio Supreme Court Justice and Partner-in-Charge of Diversity, Inclusion and Advancement for Jones Day, began the main conference on May 5th by giving attendees their charge for the day: judge students (and individuals) by their potential and drive and not by their socio-economic background. The audience of approximately 350 then had the opportunity to attend their choice of 20 breakout sessions with themes such as diversity recruitment and inclusion programming in health sciences, culturally competent programming for diversity, and the power and promise of mentoring Black males in higher education. 

Dr. Nancy Cantor, Chancellor of Rutgers University – Newark and national advocate for racial and gender equality in colleges, was the luncheon keynote speaker. Before her keynote address began, Chancellor Cantor was given the 2015 William H. Watson Memorial Award by Dr. Eugene Jones, Associate Professor in Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics.  Dr. Watson’s granddaughter, Tamara Watson, was among those at the Watson Family and Friends table who witnessed the presentation. Established in 1977, this award honors Professor Watson, the Associate Dean of University College and Professor of Agricultural Education, who died in 1971.

Chancellor Cantor then spoke to the conference’s theme: “When Academe Meets Corporate: STEMing the Global Landscape of Education, Diversity and Inclusion.” Although STEM is growing as an industry, it isn’t growing in a way that reflects the current population of the United States. There is, stated Chancellor Cantor, a cycle that exists: colleges and universities don’t produce enough bachelor’s, master’s or PhD students from underrepresented groups in STEM fields, leading to low representation of those groups within STEM majors. Chancellor Cantor also talked of the importance of a holistic examination of student applications, that there is “invisible talent” that can be found once we look beyond test scores and outside ourselves and our particular silos.

After the keynote, the Grand Dialogue continued with Chancellor Cantor and the audience. Moderated by Dr. Jerlando F.L. Jackson, the Vilas Distinguished Professor of Higher and Postsecondary Education and director of the Equity and Inclusion Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin, Chancellor Cantor and the audience expanded on the thoughts and ideas introduced in the keynote.

Finally, Rose Wilson-Hill, director for Administration/Special Programs, presented Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion Valerie Lee – who oversaw her last Conference on Diversity, Race & Learning before she retires at the end of June – an award for Dr. Lee’s many years of service to ODI and the university. “It has been my privilege to preside over the past five National Conferences on Diversity, Race and Learning. Every conference provided a chance to share knowledge and best practices, and created a place to network, build community, and recharge,” Vice Provost Lee said.