Anna-Catherine Kueng ~ Assistant Editor
On Jan. 31 at 10 a.m., there was a Town Hall Meeting held in the Sydnor Performance Hall to introduce to attendees the new task force for diversity and equity inclusion.
Dr. Robert Canida, The Diversity and Inclusion Officer, explained, “The task force came out of the office of President Garren with support and guidance from Provost Jablonski and Vice President and Dean for Student Development Smith. Why the task force was created is, you may be aware of the [fiesta] incident that happened last fall, so at a Dec. 4 meeting, President Garren met with a group of students. At that meeting, he promised he would form a task force to look into matters related to diversity and equity and inclusion, and how that task force would be charged with looking at things like policies, diversity initiatives, and also recalling orientation. By that we mean the process by which individuals, such as students, faculty and staff, are acclimated to the campus when they are hired or matriculated to the University of Lynchburg.”
In addition to faculty and staff, the task force has students on it that were appointed by the Student Government Association President Davion Washington. “The students appointed by me to be on the task force include Darian Geddis, Joshua Gomez, Shadaya Cooper, Emmanuel Hernandez, Ullunda Veal, and Keaira Reese,” said Washington.
Hernandez said, “When I saw the opportunity to facilitate change on campus, I accepted because of my passion for diversity and inclusion. I am looking forward to seeing my suggestions and ideas help future students of the University of Lynchburg.”
Dr. Canida said, “One thing people will find out about me, whenever we are talking about institutional diversity and equity inclusion, we have to have students at the table. Students are on this task force. They will have a seat at the table, and they will have a voice. I am excited about meeting all the constituents that are part of the task force to see how we are going to help move the university forward and make it an institution of inclusive excellence.”
Hernandez agreed, saying, “ It is important to have students on this task force because students are the reason this school exists. No one would be here without us, so to have student representation in this task force is important because of the ideas and experiences we can bring.”
Commenting on the improvements the task force will provide, Dr. Canida said, “The university already has a non-discrimination statement that is in the handbook and everything, but we will be looking at the policies as relates to diversity, equity, and inclusion. We will be doing our research looking at other institutions. Two schools that stick out that are sort of the leaders, [and] I am impressed with, are Willam and Mary and University of Alabama-Birmingham. They have, in my opinion, two robust diversity and equity inclusion offices. I am going to suggest to the task force they look at them as they do the work around new policies as related to diversity, equity, and inclusion,” said Dr. Canida.
The task force will also be partnering with Virginia Center for Inclusive Community, according to Dr. Canida, “to do some diversity workshops for faculty, staff, and students.”
Dr. Canida explained that students also play a part in making the University of Lynchburg a welcoming place for everyone. He said, “The thing is simply understanding I am not different from you. I am different like you. Once we get past the differences, based off what we can see because that is where, in my opinion, the uneasiness comes into play when students, as well as faculty and staff, encounter people on the outside that look different so there is that automatic wall that gets put up and prevents us from developing relationships. What students can practically do is to be willing to step out of their comfort zone, to be willing to cross the aisle and to meet individuals, [and] to meet your peers that may come from Greensboro NC, or upstate New York, or from Africa.”
Looking ahead, Dr. Canida said, “One of my goals, and it has already been put in place, but we are going to carry it out, is to make the University of Lynchburg truly an institution of inclusive excellence. What I mean by that is our goal is that every facet of the university should in some shape or form fashion embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion. They should have some aspect of equity and inclusion in everything they do. From the president’s office, to environmental services, which comprises of our grounds people and housekeepers, in showing that they are fully included. Also, the flip side is they have to make others feel included, as well.”
Dr. Canida concluded by saying, “I want everyone to realize that no matter what we as an institution, as a family, go through, the bumps and so forth…we are Lynchburg.”