COVID-19 might have disrupted a lot this past spring, but Dr. Robert Canida, the University of Lynchburg’s vice president for inclusive excellence, was determined to not let the pandemic affect the Office of Equity and Inclusion and its efforts to create a more inclusive, respectful campus environment.
“To stay true to our commitment, that diversity is a priority and that Lynchburg is a place where everyone feels welcomed and treated with respect, and in response to the shelter-in-place order caused by COVID-19, it was necessary for OEI’s diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts not to stop,” he said.
“I was determined that diversity, equity, and inclusion conversations were going to thrive during this pandemic. It was important that our campus community had the opportunity to have these courageous conversations to talk and learn about issues involving race, discrimination, bias, microaggressions, equity, and other relevant topics.”
So Canida sprang into action, organizing a series of events that he called “Courageous Conversations.” The free events — some livestreamed, others held on the Dell — are aimed at students, faculty, and staff, but some are open to the general public. Videos of past events also can be viewed on the University website.
“My intention is to create a space for our campus community to come together and have brave, intentional, and necessary conversations on topics that have and continue to challenge us,” Canida said. “I want us to engage in meaningful, yet sometimes uncomfortable conversations, in order for us to grow individually, but also as a community.”
Courageous Conversations started this past summer and will continue through the fall and beyond. They are led by Lynchburg faculty and staff, faculty from other institutions, and outside experts in the area of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Canida said he had no trouble getting people involved, especially at Lynchburg.
“In my short tenure at Lynchburg, I quickly learned that Hornets help Hornets,” Canida, who came to Lynchburg in December 2019, said. “So, when I accessed the very extensive diversity resource directory, created by the Staff Advisory Council, and asked various staff and faculty members for help in leading a session, the resounding answer was, ‘Yes!’
“As for getting my external colleagues and organizations to pour into our campus community with their expertise and knowledge, I was taught at an early age, ‘You have not, because you ask not!’ Therefore, I simply asked and again, the answer was a resounding, ‘Yes!’”
Upcoming Courageous Conversations include “A Tale of Two Lynchburgs: Unpacking Perceptions of Race,” Tuesday, Sept. 29; “Continuing the Conversation: Connecting Collegiate Students to Share Their Voices,’ Thursday, Oct. 1; “Using Experiential Education and Selective Research to Challenge Students’ Thinking About the Civil Rights in America,” Wednesday, Oct. 7; “Slavery and the Liberal Arts: Perspectives from Roanoke College,” Thursday, Oct. 15; “Honoring and Centering Hispanic Voices in Higher Education,” Wednesday, Oct. 21; and “Stereotype Threat: Struggles and Success Stories with Tips to Thrive,” Tuesday, Oct. 27.
“Courageous conversations are not easy, but they are necessary if we as a campus community are going to reach inclusive excellence,” Canida said. “We cannot allow our differences to keep us apart. Therefore, it is critical that we know, ‘We’re not different from each other, we’re different like each other.”
Courageous Conversations are presented in cooperation with the Office of Equity and Inclusion, the Diversity Committee of the President’s Task Force, the Inclusive Excellence Council, and the Teaching and Learning Center. For more information, email email@example.com.