Written by: Ellise Smith, Assistant Director of the O’Neill Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
As a Black woman, I recognize my identities show up before I have the opportunity to speak. Once I step foot into a classroom or log into a Zoom meeting, most can identify I am a fat, Black, woman.
Historically, society has marginalized all three of those identities. Through each of them, I experience life in a different way every time I enter a room. I cannot show up as just a woman, just Black, or just fat—a word I aim to reclaim. I live with these identities daily. I am treated differently depending upon who is in the room and their experience with someone who holds one or all my identities. That is why I have chosen to consistently show up doing DEI work as my authentic self.
That work began in high school when I often asked, “Why are you treating people ‘funny?’” At the time, that was my way of calling out all the -isms and phobias many found permissible. Moving into higher education did not shield me from sexist, racist, fatphobic, or other discriminatory discussions. I chose to take those experiences and engage in work that challenged systems that have discriminated against people based on society’s limited perceptions. I continued this questioning well into my work as a doctoral student and to this day as the assistant director of the O’Neill Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
OODEI’s purpose is to identify the needs of O’Neill students, faculty, staff, alumni, and campus and community partners. Those needs often center around experiences related to race, ethnicity, sexual identity and orientation, religion, socioeconomic status, visible and invisible disabilities, ability, and more.
To that end, our office is striving to implement intentional efforts during the spring 2022 semester and beyond to celebrate and increase awareness of identities that have been historically marginalized while also increasing transparency around DEI-related issues.
DEI Certificate Series
Since my arrival in April 2021, O’Neill IUPUI has offered two semesters of its Dimensions of Diversity seminar series. The course provides students an opportunity to engage in DEI-related discussions around race, sexual orientation and gender identity, socioeconomic status, and moving from being an ally to an accomplice. Upon completion, they earn a DEI certificate.
Undergraduate sessions are underway, and the graduate student course begins March 25. Registration is open at this link.
When leading these sessions, I remind participants the conversations may be difficult and sometimes tense. Yet hard work is critical to creating radical change. Although most students did not create systems that perpetuate oppression or forms of whiteness, there are many who benefit from these ideologies and many more who are impacted as a result. Our discussions help ensure we are aware and can make intentional efforts to eradicate these systems of oppression.
We hope to expand these efforts to include faculty and staff in summer 2022 and to offer the course again to students in the fall.
DEI Leadership Awards
For the second year in a row, our office is hosting its DEI Leadership Awards. Our goal is to celebrate those within the O’Neill community who have achieved made significant and intentional contributions toward promoting the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
This year we have seven categories to recognize:
- Alumni of the Year
- Community Partner of the Year
- Graduate Student of the Year
- Undergraduate Student of the Year
- Faculty Member of the Year
- Campus Partner of the Year
- Diversity Impact Award (recognizing staff members only)
IUPUI’s virtual awards ceremony will be April 5, while Bloomington will celebrate on April 11. Nominations are open online until February 28.
Students for Equity in Public Affairs
This semester, we also launched a new O’Neill student organization: Students for Equity in Public Affairs – Indianapolis. SEPA Indy is just beginning its efforts to provide students with a space to enact change and implement DEI-related initiatives. They will focus on challenging what it means to be inclusive while providing programming, services, and resources to ensure our school is engaging in equitable discussions that impact the campus and surrounding communities. SEPA Indy is establishing its executive leadership team and will soon begin its work within O’Neill IUPUI.
The three efforts I’ve highlighted are only the beginning of our work for 2022. Although our OODEI team is small, our passion and drive will continue to bring DEI-related opportunities to our entire O’Neill community.
OODEI’s goal is to create a culture that intentionally calls out problematic ideologies with corrective action that includes training, programming, intentional dialogue, and space to ask questions. DEI work cannot be siloed—it is an effort that needs the voices of all those involved, both the privileged and the oppressed. Those who claim they want to see change—yet show up only when it is beneficial and stay silent during challenges—cannot scrutinize DEI efforts.
This work is never a quick fix. We are working to unlearn hundreds of years of ideologies that most of us did not create. That’s why we are taking an intentional approach with what we plan. We want to ensure we are engaging each section of our community, sharing information across all departments and platforms, and finding ways to implement DEI discussions outside of the classroom by inviting campus and community partners to speak about professional and personal development. These are all key factors that will lead to sustainable outcomes that create a fair and more just society for our future generations.
To contact OODEI, email OODEI@Indiana.edu or send a message to @ONeillDiversity on Instagram and Twitter. We are open to feedback on and discussions about programming, resources, collaborations, difficult discussions, incorporating DEI in the classroom, community efforts related to DEI, and much more.