The Inaugural HEED Award Summit

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On June 18 and 19, 2018, INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine hosted the inaugural Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Award Summit on the University of Houston’s (UH) campus. This unique “think tank” event was open to the colleges and universities that received the 2017 HEED Award and Health Professions HEED Award. Only 2 percent of higher education institutions nationwide received this honor last year.

[Above: A group of summit attendees discuss student recruitment and retention during a breakout session.]

The invitation-only event was designed exclusively for HEED Award recipients so that the seasoned chief diversity officers (CDOs) representing these institutions could come together in an environment that fostered dialogue, collaboration, and the sharing of best practices. The more than 45 colleges and universities across the U.S. that attended the summit included both large and small, public and private baccalaureate-granting institutions; law schools; community colleges; and medical, dental, veterinary, and nursing schools.

Renowned higher education expert and diversity visionary Damon A. Williams, PhD, was the keynote speaker. In addition to serving on the INSIGHT Into Diversity Editorial Board, Williams is chief catalyst for the Center for Strategic Diversity Leadership & Social Innovation and a senior scholar and innovation fellow at Wisconsin’s Equity and Inclusion Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In an inspiring address, he emphasized the moral courage inherent in those who dedicate their lives and careers to creating a more equitable society by championing inclusion in higher education.  

Lenore Pearlstein and Kathryn Tart, dean of the University of Houston College of Nursing, speak during a panel discussion break.

INSIGHT Into Diversity based session topics on a pre-survey of CDOs from HEED Award schools as they related to the most pressing diversity, equity, and inclusion issues they face on a daily basis. Presenters on each panel were selected and invited by INSIGHT to talk about their specific programs and efforts. “We read every HEED Award application, so we know who has the best programs related to each topic and who we wanted to lead each discussion,” says Lenore Pearlstein, co-publisher of INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine. 

Speakers shared how they managed to successfully address these issues on their campuses through innovative programming and initiatives. “Every panelist came prepared to talk about a unique program or initiative they had on their campus — how it works, what worked well, and what they might have done differently,” says Holly Mendelson, co-publisher of INSIGHT Into Diversity. “After the panelists’ presentations, other attendees had the opportunity to ask questions and even talk about similar programs on their own campuses. You could feel the excitement in the room because everyone was participating.”

Leonard Baynes, dean of the University of Houston Law Center, and Willette Burnham-Williams, university chief diversity officer at the Medical University of South Carolina, share insights on recruiting diverse faculty.

Richard Baker, JD, PhD, assistant vice chancellor and Title IX coordinator at UH and incoming president of the American Association for Access, Equity, and Diversity (AAAED), along with AAAED Executive Director Shirley Wilcher, JD, discussed critical factors affecting campus climate and the well-being of underrepresented students and employees. They covered topics such as shifting immigration policies and the rise of hate speech on college campuses. 

Representatives from summit sponsors General Motors and TIAA, along with nationally recognized business coach Arquella Hargrove, discussed the bridge between higher education and corporate America. They examined in detail how colleges and universities can better prepare students with the knowledge and skills most valued by employers seeking to create equitable and inclusive workplaces. 

The summit concluded with Ashley Hamm, a licensed professional counselor specializing in stress management for busy professionals. She conducted a workshop on self-care for diversity practitioners, which focused on avoiding burnout and managing a better work-life balance.

Both Pearlstein and Mendelson agree that the key factor in the summit’s success was the enthusiasm attendees had for engaging and collaborating with one another with regard to achieving the strategic goals of their respective institutions. “It was amazing to see medical school CDOs learning from community college CDOs,” says Pearlstein. “Everyone was there for the same reason, but I don’t think anyone expected to walk away with so much motivation to begin modeling the programs and initiatives they learned about from their peers. It was two fantastic days of listening, learning, and forming new bonds and friendships.”

The University of Cincinnati will host the 2019 HEED Award Summit in June 2019.●

Mariah Bohanon is the associate editor of INSIGHT Into Diversity.