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Conversations about identity highlight discussion series

Tim Wilkinson (center), assistant dean of students and director of the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs, was among the organizers of the Inclusive Leadership Program.

In an effort to build positive relationships across campus and explore values, beliefs and diverse perspectives, a group of students recently participated in the Inclusive Leadership Program.

The leadership program was piloted with ten students belonging to fraternities and sororities and ten non-Greek affiliated students. The eight-week series, which was supported by the Provost’s office and Lehigh’s Core Competency Grant and ran throughout January and February, delved into a wide range of identity characteristics in weekly sessions:
 
  • Heather Johnson, associate professor of sociology, and Imaani El-Burki, Africana studies post-doctoral fellow, hosted a session on race
  • Carolina Hernandez, director of community service, and Kim Carrell-Smith, professor of practice in history, led a conversation on class and privilege
  • Lloyd Steffen, professor of religion studies and university chaplain, and Monica Miller, assistant professor of religion studies and Africana studies, engaged students in conversation on religion and spirituality
  • James Peterson, director of Africana studies and associate professor of English, and Tim Wilkinson, assistant dean of students and director of the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs, discussed the state of Greek life at Lehigh
"I am encouraged by the willingness of our students to delve into challenging, and often unwelcomed, discussions about our campus community and culture,” said Angela Scott, director of academic diversity and outreach.

The Inclusive Leadership Program has been part of a robust series of events related to diversity and inclusion this semester. Earlier this month, the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee hosted writer and activist Angela Davis and hip-hop artist Nas, and in February, the fifth annual Bridging the Gap conference brought students together for workshops centered on the concept of “Redefining Black History.” A “Celebrating Diversity” networking reception, led by SQUAB (the Society of Queer and Undergraduate Allies in Business) , focused on career development for underrepresented groups in the business world.

The slate of discussions led by faculty and staff in the inclusive leadership program was so successful that the students have continued to meet in the weeks since the last official session.

“As things came to an end, it was evident that the group wanted to move forward and work with one another further to bring some of their ideas for positive change on campus to fruition,” said Ashley Baudouin, assistant director of OFSA. “Every student voluntarily opted-in to continue meeting, without mandate or incentive. Their enthusiasm is no less than it was when we began this seminar and, coupled with the strong relationships built among the group members, the momentum has only continued to grow. “

“Although the program has ended, its mission has not. I intend to be honest with myself and others when difficult situations arise,” said Freddy Coleman, president of the class of 2017.

“I love this institution and what it stands for based on its vision and mission statement. As a student leader on campus, I pledge to set an example of what is needed out of a Lehigh student to create, foster, and sustain a new sense of Lehigh pride.”

Scott, who organized the program alongside Wilkinson, Baudouin and Jennifer Swann, associate professor of biology, said that the series offered students an important opportunity to forge new connections and engage in faculty and staff outside of class. Lehigh Provost Pat Farrell and Peterson led the closing remarks, where they implored students to continue having conversations that push boundaries and lead to better understanding.

"It is exciting to see students engaging in challenging conversations about the difficult subjects of difference, inclusion, and campus climate,” said Farrell. “Challenging conversations may not seem like they will have much impact, but as they lead to learning, understanding and new perspectives, they also lead to changed attitudes and behaviors. I really appreciate these students willingness to take a chance and challenge themselves to think differently from how they thought before."

Story by Karl Brisseaux '11

Posted on Thursday, March 27, 2014

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