By SHANNON O. WELLS
When Pitt’s Diversity Retreat debuted in 2014, the event set out to build campus-wide cultural competency while creating a resource for students, faculty and staff to address systemic inequities and how they affect different identity groups. While those goals remain at the core of the annual event, one key difference — aside from a name change to Diversity Forum — is its availability and access.
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic led the retreat into virtual territory. “This allowed us to build on the retreat with a stronger focus on social justice, equity education and the global community,” said Ron Idoko, diversity and multi-cultural program manager for Pitt’s Office for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (OEDI). “The virtual format has also given us the opportunity to connect diversity, equity and inclusion practitioners and scholars from around the world.”
Built on the theme of “Rewiring our Systems: Transforming the Intersections of Inequity,” the all-virtual Diversity Forum 2022 will take place July 25 to 28. The event, which is free and open to the public, will feature what OEDI called “dynamic” keynote programs and community-led sessions geared to “develop social equity consciousness and systems-thinking approaches” addressing the intersections of social identities, and cultivate models for advancing social justice. The event will have featured sessions with panels of experts and multiple workshops designed as interactive, deep dives on specific topics.
Keynote speakers are Tarana Burke, activist, author and founder of the “Me Too” movement, at 9 a.m. July 27; and Nyle DiMarco, deaf activist and winner of “America’s Next Top Model” and “Dancing with the Stars” at 5:30 p.m. July 26.
Fitting with the forum’s virtual evolution since its more insular beginning, this year’s event emphasizes community both within and without the Pitt campus.
“When we think about community, it goes beyond the University's borders,” Idoko said. “This is why the forum is focused on addressing big picture questions like ‘How do we position people?’ and ‘How can we support people and communities in cultivating models for social equity, advancing social justice and realizing an equitable, inclusive world?’”
The theme, Idoko explained, represents a move away from simply acknowledging societal inequities and systemic oppression to thinking about “how we can work to reconfigure, reconstruct and rewire these systems to prioritize equity, especially across intersecting identities.”
Idoko explained “intersectionality,” a key term in this year’s Diversity Forum, as the idea that “we all have more than one identity” as in Black vs. Black woman, Black trans woman and so forth. “Our identities are interdependent and create unique societal privileges and disadvantages,” he said. “They also combine to inform how we each view and discuss the world.”
The event builds on the 2021 forum’s theme, “Dismantling Oppressive Systems: Building Just Communities,” which Idoko said attracted 5,000 participants.
Noting there is “no shortage” of happenings around the country to sharpen interest in this year’s event, the key takeaway from 2021 is there are “many people looking for real, practical ways to enter DEI and social justice work,” he said. “People are also looking for opportunities to develop strategies to address DEI issues across the country. We also learned that people want to celebrate their accomplishments in DEI and social justice work.”
Hearing about these successes, Idoko said, allows Pitt’s OEDI to learn from and replicate them. “This work can be challenging and exhausting, but we encourage everyone to take some time to take a moment to celebrate their hard work.”
A pre-Diversity Forum institute event, affiliated with Pitt’s Racial Equity Consciousness Institute, also is available free of charge to members of the Pitt community, or $199 for those outside Pitt. Spaces are limited for the first-come, first-served institute, called “Illuminating the Vaccine for Racism: Embodying Grounded Personal and Collective Racial Equity Consciousness.”
Idoko said the event uses the Racial Equity Consciousness Institute as a guide to provide a “deep, immersive experience with engaged community-learning dialogues that address the complexity and pervasiveness of racism,” exploring methods to “catalyze ideas, practices and cultures that lead to racial equity.”
Shannon O. Wells is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at email@example.com.
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