2016 DDNRC CONFERENCE REPORT
By: Kelly E. Maxwell, Ph.D.
The second biennial DDNRC conference titled, Changing Climates, Divided Landscapes: Strategies for Engaging Difficult Dialogues in Higher Education, was held October 24-25, 2016 at the Michigan Union on the campus of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (U-M).
Context and Participants
The conference was locally hosted by The Program on Intergroup Relations (IGR) and the National Center for Institutional Diversity (NCID) at the University of Michigan. Kelly Maxwell (IGR) was the primary contact person, though multiple team members from NCID handled many of the logistical details including Dr. Marie Ting, Thalia Maya, and Laura Parkinson. Funding for the conference came from conference registrations as well as the generous support by the U-M Vice Provost for Equity and Inclusion & Chief Diversity Officer, Robert Sellers. The U-M President’s Office also hosted a dinner for conference participants, distinguished U-M guests and our keynote speaker, Dr. Beverly Tatum.
There were over 100 conference attendees consisting of a wide geographical representation: Alaska, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, D.C., and Wisconsin. Additionally, there were a wide range of participating institutions including 4-year public research and comprehensive universities, private research universities, private liberal arts and religious institutions. Participants included senior administrators, faculty, student affairs staff as well as graduate and undergraduate students. students, In particular, seven students from the University of Michigan-Flint were eager participants throughout.
Sunday, October 23, 2016
The conference committee convened to discuss last minute preparations and to have an executive committee meeting (since there was overlap between conference and executive committees).
Monday, October 24, 2016
The conference opened with remarks from the hosts, Dr. Kelly Maxwell (IGR) and Dr. Tabbye Chavous (Director, NCID). DDNRC president, Dr. Pauline Strong (UT-Austin) also welcomed the attendees. Libby Roderick (UAA) treated all to a selection of songs to fit the conference theme and pre-election anxiety in the room. Many participants commented on the unique start to the conference and agreed it was a terrific way to begin.
The morning continued with two breakout sessions with three workshop options each time. Please see the Appendix 1 for the breakout session topics.
All participants reconvened for lunch and a conversation café where participants discussed two specific questions: What are the most difficult conversations on your campus and community? And what are the most difficult silences? These conversations energized the group and moved us into two large plenaries for the early afternoon.
The first was from U-M Educational Theatre Company (ETC) where the director, Callie McKee, discussed how theater is a catalyst for difficult conversations and then led the group in several theater exercises. The plenary finished with a sketch performed by ETC undergraduate actors about unpacking identities, which is typically performed during new student orientation.
The second plenary was about environmental climate change and featured a panel of faculty, staff, and students from UAA, UT-Austin, and the University of Michigan. They discussed a variety of courses and pedagogical tools used to engage students in the discussion of climate change and sustainability. Students from Dr. Sara Soderstrom’s course also attended and sat throughout the room for the table discussion portion of the session. Feedback on this session was mixed in that some participants found the juxtaposition between “campus climate” and environmental “climate change” confusing. Our conference theme had intended to use a double meaning of climate but we did not as clearly articulate that meaning to the participants.
The conference day ended with a keynote, held in the Rogel Ballroom in the Michigan Union, open to the entire campus and Ann Arbor community by Dr. Beverly Tatum, President Emerita of Spelman College. Her talk, Why Are All the Black Kids Still Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Campus Conversations on Race, engaged the audience in thinking about identity in 2016, nearly 20 years after her seminal book was published. Additionally, she expounded on campus institutional issues that remain to make equality and equity difficult to achieve. Over 600 people attended.
The keynote address was followed by dinner for Dr. Tatum, conference attendees, and invited guests of the University of Michigan. It was held at the University of Michigan Museum of Art and both the Vice Provost for Equity and Inclusion and Board of Regents Chair Dr. Shauna Diggs briefly addressed the crowd about the significance of this conference as the University unveils their ambitious Strategic Plan for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Both committed continued time and resources to the issues raised by Dr. Tatum, the conference, and the diversity, equity, and inclusion planning process.
Tuesday, October 25, 2016
The second day of the conference began with a conversation with Dr. Beverly Tatum hosted by Dr. Tabbye Chavous of NCID. The conversational format allowed audience-members to ask questions and get her perspectives on issues ranging from diversity and equity in higher education to questions about the upcoming election. Participants appreciated this more intimate opportunity to hear from Dr. Tatum and express some of their own thoughts, ideas, and concerns about difficult dialogues on their own campuses.
A third breakout session was offered late Tuesday morning with three final sessions offered to participants. The final plenary took place over lunch where Libby Roderick spoke about Toxic Friday: Resources for Addressing Faculty-to-Faculty Bullying in Higher Education. She showed a video role-playing faculty bullying and made space for discussion of the topic. As a final wrap-up Libby performed several additional songs and invited the participants to join in. This was a lovely ending to wrap-up the conference on a note of solidarity and hope.