Last week the University of Rhode Island celebrated Diversity Week. This has become an extremely important event in the life of our community because all the events celebrate and advance of our core values and highest priorities: building a community here that seeks unity in the midst of diversity and that welcomes, affirms, and supports all of its members. I especially appreciate, as I think we all should, the efforts of so many individuals, offices, and organizations that make Diversity Week happen, as well all of those who sponsor and support their dedicated and valuable work. I specifically want to thank the Co-Chairs of this year’s planning committee: Dr. Judy Van Wyk, Melvin Wade, Dr. Paul Bueno de Mesquita, and Dr. Mailee Kue. I would also like to thank our key sponsors, the College of the Environment and Life Sciences, Lifespan, and MetLife Auto and Home. In addition, the URI Departments of Psychology and Sociology, the Honors Program, and URI 101 all contributed to a special week.
The diversity of the events during Diversity Week was striking. Ranging from the two keynote lectures, by Dr. Dana Fullwiley and Dr. Esteban Gonzalez Burchard, which shared new insights from genomics to issues of race and identity, to the Seven Continents Culture Show (coordinated by Brandford Davis), which featured 20 student organizations, URI experienced quite a week.
I especially enjoyed the “Out of Diversity: We Speak” forum organized by Professor Jody Lisberger, the Director of Women’s Studies at URI. Every speaker’s voice was eloquent, thoughtful, and inspiring. Each speaker presented a unique and illuminating perspective on diversity, grounded in their life and experiences. Two comments during the presentations really struck home with me. The first comment, made by Alycia Mosley Austin was: “Many people view diversity as a threat to excellence, but I know I’m not alone in the belief that diversity is a requirement for excellence.” I think Alycia is right. The second comment, made by Danielle Henderson was: “It is not the things that happen to us that define us, it is the things that happen because of us.”
A lot of things happen to us, as individuals, as a community, and as an institution. Let’s not let those things define us. We can facilitate or create many great things for our community, our state, and our nation. Let’s resolve to have those things define who we are and what the University of Rhode Island stands for.
Helen Mederer (Professor, Sociology); Stephanie Lavallee (senior, physical therapy major; WMS minor); Alycia Mosley Austin (Director, Graduate Recruitment and Diversity Initiatives); Danielle Henderson (senior, WMS and English double major); Zuleika Toribio (junior, Psychology and WMS double major); Ian Reyes (Assistant Professor, Communication Studies); Adeyemi Ogunade (graduate student in economics from Nigeria, Schmidt Labor and Research Center)