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Second diversity listening session draws an array of voices

Image with caption: Sheritta Strong, MD, UNMC director of inclusion, speaks at the listening session.

Sheritta Strong, MD, UNMC director of inclusion, speaks at the listening session.

UNMC's second all-campus diversity and inclusion listening session featured a wide array of voices before breaking into small-group discussions to reflect upon what was heard.

The session, which is one of many listening sessions that followed UNMC's initial session on the heels of protests and national calls to end structural racism, was conducted via Zoom, and used that platform's breakout-room feature for further discussion. Katie Brandert of the College of Public Health (COPH) and Sarena Dacus, a UNMC COPH alum, served as facilitators.

View the session.

Taking this next step was crucial, said UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, MD, in kicking off the session: "This will help create my own personal homework list," the chancellor said. "We know that ultimately we will be judged by our actions, and not just our words."

Dialog is important, said Sheritta Strong, MD, director of inclusion and assistant professor of psychiatry.

"Your voices are loud when you support the effort, and even louder when you do not," Dr. Strong said. In cases of diversity and inclusion, "silence is deafening."

That was a point brought home by one of the panelists, Emily McElroy, dean, McGoogan Health Sciences Library.

"You don't just come out once in your life," the dean said, and so those who are LGBTQ may feel the freedom to be their authentic selves upon seeing an outward sign of support, like a Pride flag.

McElroy said people look for these signs of support when deciding where to live, work or go to school. Inclusive language also makes a difference in making potential recruits feel welcome, she said.

Fellow panelist Lisa Spellman, publications/media specialist in the UNMC Department of Strategic Communications, made a similar point, noting the med center has successfully recruited Native American faculty and staff -- but few stay.

Spellman, an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux, or Sicangu Oyate, said that Natives are "the minority of the minority." Being one of the few on campus, "you can get pulled in a lot of directions" on Native issues in the state. It can be a lot to take on.

But, "One day I woke up and realized, I am the elder," she said.

Shaker Dukkipati, an MD/PhD student and president of UNMC's Student Alliance for People of All Abilities, brought a student's perspective. He grew up in the woods of east Texas, of south Indian descent, in a largely white community. His family came to the U.S. for a better life for his sister, who has epilepsy and cerebral palsy.

He grew up thinking, "Why is society created in a certain way for me, but not for her?"

He wasn't aware of race until after 9/11. "All of a sudden I remember being told for the first time to go back to my country," he said.

Smaller breakout sessions were charged with coming up with potential plans of action going forward.

Dr. Gold was among the many (including those on Zoom chat) to thank the panelists for showing a vulnerable side to themselves and inspiring so many others.

"It has been an incredibly powerful session," Dr. Gold said.

Dr. Strong reported that the planning committee will process the reflections in the chat and provide a brief summary at a later time.

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