Southern Utah University is currently hosting its first annual Summit on Belonging to help university faculty and staff create a more inclusive environment.
The program hopes to support those working on its campus in developing their equity, diversity and inclusion skills, otherwise referred to as EDI skills.
The event began at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 25, with a welcome reception led by Daneka Souberbielle and SUU President Mindy Benson.
Souberbielle began by reasoning that faculty and staff should take the teachings to heart, as it is their responsibility to create the best possible environment for their students.
“As educators, it is our responsibility to stay informed, stay agile, competent and, sometimes, even certified in our areas of expertise,” Souberbielle said. “The same is true for EDI.”
President Benson then introduced herself to the crowd and then stated why she believed that this particular event was vital for everyone on campus.
“Our faculty, staff and students are the most important thing we can focus on,” Benson said. “Helping everyone to feel involved and engaged and as they belong at the table is an important goal for me.”
Benson also discussed her experiences of feeling as if she didn’t belong in Cedar City at multiple points in her career.
“Let me paint a picture for you: as a single woman, with no children, living in a rural community, I know what it’s like to not belong in some spaces,” Benson said.
Nonetheless, Benson recognized that everyone has felt that way at some point and that this seminar will be used to help others in the community feel welcome on campus.
After the welcome portion, Nubia Peña was introduced for her presentation. Peña is both the current senior advisor on equity and opportunity for Utah Gov. Spencer J. Cox and the director of the Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs.
Peña began her segment by thanking everyone for attending and for their contributions to the state of Utah through their professions.
“Great talent is coming out of SUU,” Peña said. “You are the leaders that are helping frame and shape the direction of the young minds that get to say ‘I want to do more for Utah.’”
She then discussed how keeping an inclusive, open mind can be beneficial to not only the university but the state of Utah as a whole. Peña said:
“Imagine investing so much time, energy and resources into training a person that is leading a team, only to know that within three months, six months or one year, that person, because they felt they were not integrated into the mission of your organization, they take all of that investment, all of those resources, all of that talent, and they give it to a different institution of education.”
Before she concluded her presentation, she used an African proverb to elaborate on her purpose as an instructor at the summit.
“‘If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together,’” Peña said. “We want to go far at SUU. We want to create a community of belonging so every single person has an opportunity to thrive.”
The summit then moved onto a brief panel involving Peña and Derek Charles Livingston, the interim artistic director and director of new play development at the Utah Shakespeare Festival. Livingston was also co-chair for the 1993 March on Washington for lesbian, gay and bisexual rights.
Livingston used his experience from the march to display how he sees inclusion should be similarly used at SUU, in terms of allowing everyone to share their opinions on issues.
“Not only did we make sure those voices were in the room, but we also made sure that those voices were given space to articulate and express their feelings, their experiences, their perspectives and their needs,” Livingston said.
Peña answered the ensuing question by encouraging those in attendance to become involved with one another to find the best solution to issues within the SUU community.
“To every person in this room: you are a bridge builder,” Peña said. “You are part of the solution. We desperately need you in order to know that this is your work, and this is our work together.”
After the panel concluded, those attending the meeting took a short break, then broke off into groups to view multiple concurrent sessions throughout the day. These sessions were only broken up by a short lunch break at 11:30 a.m. and lasted until the mix-and-mingle session at 3:30 p.m.
The event will continue throughout Wednesday, Oct. 26, with Justin Jones-Fosu presenting the concluding keynote speech at 3:30 p.m. Jones-Fosu is a former member of multiple Fortune 500 companies that now uses his experience to help organizations create new rhythms of sustainable excellence, profitability and engagement.
For more information about the summit event, details can be found on the SUU website.
Story and Photos by: Luke McKenzie