By Jermaine Rowley
For The Diamondback
After a semester with several hate bias incidents, the University of Maryland's Center for Diversity and Inclusion in Higher Education is bringing together a group of experts and advocates to discuss various issues facing universities.
The center is hosting the inaugural Thought Leaders Summit, a three-day conference beginning Jan. 30 at The Hotel at the University of Maryland. The summit will focus on white supremacy, anti-Semitism, sexual harassment and other social concerns.
This summit is necessary for the university to heal, said Candace Moore, who serves as the center's director, but it's also important to begin a season of reconstruction, especially after the murder of 2nd Lt. Richard Collins, who was stabbed on the campus in May.
There have also been incidents of anti-Semitism on campus after a swastika was spray-painted on a trash cart at Hagerstown Hall, as well as a separate incident when a swastika, along with an offensive phrase, was found in the plant sciences building.
As these incidents continue to persist, Moore said many institutions are finding more ways to ensure their campuses as more inclusive and welcoming environments.
"I think that based on our current political climate, inclusive of students' kind of direct response to not only the political climate, but also their engagement with campus climate through activism, that it is important for higher education faculty, administrators, staff, to have a more proactive as well as equitable and inclusive response to ensuring that our campuses are not just inclusive," Moore said, "but that we are recognizing the emergence and importance of being more socially just in the work that we do."
Moore said various scholars, administrators and other advocates will discuss and reflect on the instances of hate — from speech to bias incidents to violence on the campus — during the conference.
Professors and administrative leaders from universities and organizations all over the country will be participating and speaking during this conference, including representatives from the Rutgers University and Georgetown University.
One of the other main topics of discussion will be sexual assault and harassment, Moore said. There will be a solution-based dialogue surrounding this subject where Moore said the group will examine how universities are situating themselves to be responsive to students through responsible and fair practices.
"It is not only a response conversation but then also a climate conversation," Moore said.
This summit will also serve as a place for faculty, staff and advocates to express their thoughts and share perspectives about these various challenges, said Kimberly Griffin, a professor in the Higher Education, Student Affairs and International Education Policy program.
"I think we can do the best that we can to help students engage [in] dialogue with each other to help them deepen their understanding of others' perspectives and start to recognize our own bias," Griffin said. "Bias is something we can carry with us. You don't walk around and say I don't have any biases at all."
The center launched in 2017 and encompasses faculty, staff and advocates looking for ways to improve the campus environment and discuss various challenges, said Jennifer King Rice, who serves as the dean of this university's education college.
This conference will allow leaders, petitioners and institutions to examine issues and discuss actions taken in each of their respective sectors, Griffin said, in efforts to see how these groups can "work more collaboratively" to promote "equity and inclusion" on college campuses.
Rice said she is looking forward to hearing the different perspectives, ideas and action plans set forth by the group.
"We at universities are well-posited to really think hard about how to be more diverse, welcoming and inclusive — how we can provide a safe environment where every individual can fully engage and participate," Rice said.