Friday, April 17, 2015

Student Leadership and Diversity

The University of Rhode Island is privileged to have frequently amazing students.  They work hard, are high achievers, are dedicated to public service, raise substantial amounts of money for numerous non-profits and charities, and are committed to making a difference.  There are practically countless examples I could provide, but the one I want to focus on here is the recent Diversifying Individuals Via Education (DIVE) conference, which took place March 27-28. 
This innovative and important campus event was organized and carried out by students. The DIVE RI Conference sought to promote intercultural competence and inclusion on college campuses through a variety of workshops and discussions.  The conference was designed to educate student leaders on the importance of racial and ethnic identity and to empower students by exposing them to diverse perspectives.  A key goal was to develop plans of action to enhance leadership capabilities of students and to sustain connections among students from local colleges.  
Over 270 people registered for the conference, representing URI, Brown University, RISD, Providence College, Bryant College, Rhode Island College, Johnson and Wales University and Bridgewater State College. The conference included two keynote speakers, twenty-two workshops and a World Cafe during which conference participants came together in one room, engaging in roundtable conversations. URI faculty, staff and alumni were among the presenters and speakers. The overall goal of the conference was to enhance the leadership capabilities of student leaders. According to all the feedback I received, it was a tremendous success.
I would like to thank all the students involved for their leadership and commitment, especially the Conference committee chairs: Brandy Jones  (Logistics); Zulmy Cortes (Speakers and Presenters); Dayo Akinjisola (Finance); Tobi Raji (Public Relations and Marketing); and Raquel Mendez (Events and Programming).
I was able to attend Dr. Marc Lamont Hill’s riveting and inspirational speech that concluded the conference.  He is among America’s foremost public intellectuals and an outstanding scholar.  Lynn and I were delighted to host Dr. Hill and many of the students involved for dinner, where he and I had a chance to talk.  We agreed that one of the most critically important roles of a university is to provide the environment and context for the productive and sustained engagement among people who encompass the diversity of our nation and world.  I would argue that this role for universities has never been more important.  Our world and our nation are increasingly factionalized and polarized.  Yet the problems we face are global in scope and will demand unprecedented collaboration and cooperation to solve. 
In order to overcome the global challenges that now confront us, we will need new generations of leaders who are comfortable working with people who are very different than themselves. We will need leaders who can bridge differences with understanding.  We will need leaders who appreciate and can learn from those who have ideas and experiences that are initially unfamiliar.  We will need leaders who understand that courage means more than defending your own ideas and opinions, but being willing to change them.
DIVE RI was an important step in creating exactly those kinds of leaders. That is why I think it will have a lasting impact.  The University of Rhode Island values leadership, diversity, and inclusive community. The leadership our students displayed in creating, organizing and conducting this conference gives me great hope for the future of the University of Rhode Island and our nation.