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Midland University hosts inaugural Equity and Inclusion Summit

Midland University hosts inaugural Equity and Inclusion Summit

Feb 21st , 2020

Midland University is doing its part to make sure every student plays an integral role in making the MU campus an inclusive place. That’s why an event like the inaugural “Together We Are Warriors” Equity and Inclusion Summit is a critical step forward in that process.

About 500 people, 400 of them Midland students, attended the February 9th event at the Wikert Event Center. Through keynote speakers, small groups, and general fellowship, students learned that though they come from different backgrounds and may not all look the same, they can work together toward breaking down some of the barriers that exist.

Dr. Lawrence Chatters, Vice President of Student Affairs at Midland, was pleased not only with the turnout for the event but with the response he got from students. “We conducted a student survey and came away very impressed by the numbers,” he said. “We had over 80% say they thought the event was beneficial, almost 90% say they feel Midland is an inclusive campus, and over 97% say they are open to accepting people despite their differences. If you think about all the challenges we’re facing in society right now, and the separation you see politically, 97% is an amazing number.”

Chatters said one of the main outreaches of the Summit was to have interaction between students who might not know each other or have as much in common. By design, students were put into discussion groups where they were placed with fellow students from varying interests and backgrounds. “We know over 80% of our students are on an athletic team, or in performing arts, and they hang out with those groups,” Chatters said. “We wanted to introduce them to other people on campus. One of the first steps in creating a more inclusive space is broadening the number of people we have exposure to. They may have been paired up with a person they have seen on campus, but never talked to. It gave them a chance to connect with that person and when they see them again, they could build something that could start a potential friendship. The groups ended up being very diverse and dynamic.”

Sidney Hirsch, Director of Student Development, Warrior Skills, said students were encouraged to share something unique about themselves in their small groups. It also presented a platform for students to open up about what Midland can do in becoming a more inclusive environment. “These aren’t topics we talk about every day, so it is important to make our students aware these issues are important,” she said. “How they act, and what they say, can make a huge difference to the people around them every day. We asked them for ways to make the campus more inclusive. They responded by saying they would like to see more events like this and not just make this a one-time conversation.”

Along with group discussions, students got to hear inspirational stories from Deja Young and DeMoine Adams. Young, a current U.S. Paralympic track athlete, emphasized how she hasn’t let her disabilities define her and that she’s been able to accomplish everything she’s strived for. Adams, a former University of Nebraska and National Football League player, talked about the importance of being a leader and becoming stronger through failures. “The main component the speakers got across was that leadership includes creating spaces where people feel included and that a true leader creates an environment where everyone feels included,” Chatters said. 

For Chatters and Hirsch, the challenges that lie ahead are putting what they learned from the students into motion. Current numbers show that 29% of students at Midland come from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds and as that number continues to climb, making each student feel like they are part of an inclusive campus will be vital. 

“We want to create a campus where civil discourse is just part of what we do,” Chatters said. “If an issue comes up, we want to be able to sit down and talk through it. We want our students to tell us what they see and what they need on campus. As administrators, we may come up with something we think will be well-received, and then it isn’t because we’re a generation, or two, away from the students we’re serving. We want this to be student-focused.”

“We know there are things we can improve on,” Hirsch added. “We want to make campus feel more welcoming to all students.”

Chatters is hopeful the Equity and Inclusion Summit will pave the way for future events that will continue to bring the Midland community closer. “We know we have more work to do in creating more opportunities where students can meet and interact with one another,” he said. “Beyond the summit, and beyond the Diversity and Inclusion speaker series, we will continue to look at ourselves and make sure we are involving everybody. 

“I hope this was groundbreaking enough we could do it again. The response was very positive and our students were very engaged. We’re very grateful for the support of everyone who made this possible.”