Gerry Valentine, MBA, delivering his keynote address at the 2023 Inclusive Excellence Summit.

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Fourth annual Inclusive Excellence Summit: A time for connection and courageous leaps

Nearly 400 participants attended the fourth annual Inclusive Excellence Summit, sponsored by the Department of Inclusion and Belonging, which took place on April 18 and 19 and offered staff, faculty and community members an opportunity to learn and develop inclusive behaviors in the workplace. Both days featured sessions that aimed to cultivate a culture of belonging and create a climate where diverse experiences are recognized, valued and appreciated.

“It is my hope that this summit not only raises awareness but also catalyzes action,” Sonia Rucker, associate vice president of inclusion and belonging, stated. 

This year’s summit was fully virtual the first day and hosted in-person at Cornell’s Ithaca campus the second day, to provide opportunities that were accessible to all members of the Cornell community. Topics ranged from the five-generation workforce, to Black women’s experience in higher education, to neurodiversity in the workplace. Participants were encouraged to form connections that could be sustained into the future. 

“Due to the impact of the pandemic and other national events, we have become an even more decentralized campus in many ways,” said Erin Sember-Chase, DEI learning consultant in the Department of Inclusion and Belonging. “Therefore, our planning team really wanted to have this year’s summit be an opportunity for staff and faculty to connect with colleagues through a shared experience both virtually and in person, and to reinvigorate a sense of individual and collective empowerment toward infusing an inclusive approach and well-being mindset into our everyday work, climate and culture.”

The summit kicked off with keynote speaker Minal Bopaiah, founder of Brevity & Wit, who discussed the importance of designing equitable organizations. Drawing from her own experiences and identities, she helped participants understand unconscious bias and its threat to the workplace and offered solutions to design organizations that are conducive to a range of lived experiences. Bopaiah urged her audience to think critically about dismantling systems of oppression.

“When it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion, we have to start with engaging leadership,” Bopaiah said. “We need leadership that can see the system and engage in a more inclusive manner in how they go about redesigning the system. We need to present everyone in the organization with a clear vision of where we want to go. We need to not just know that we're dismantling things. We need to know what we're building. If you just dismantle them and don't build something up in its place, systems of oppression will find new ways to exist.”                         

On day two of the summit, Gerry Valentine, founder of Vision Executive Coaching, returned to his alma mater to deliver a keynote presentation that focused on the strengths that diverse and marginalized groups possess and how they are of value to organizations. Valentine, who earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical and computer engineering from Cornell, shared how he leveraged the skills and experiences he gained by possessing four marginalized identities to find success in the corporate world.

“Think about our narratives and how we can challenge these narratives to take courageous leaps to become the assets organizations need to power through challenging times,” Valentine said. “There is nothing wrong with being afraid. Fear naturally comes with disruption and adversity. Instead, it’s what we do when we are afraid.”

The remainder of the summit built on the messages both speakers shared, encouraging participants to take courageous leaps toward creating more inclusive and equitable working environments at Cornell and beyond.

“The Summit provided so many moments of profound connection, both online and in person,” Perdita Das-Humphrey, assistant dean of the Hans Bethe House at Cornell, said. Das-Humphrey had the opportunity to attend both days of the summit. “Whether it be validating comments in the chat, being vulnerable and sharing our stories in the breakout rooms, an honest conversation about discomfort while waiting in the lunch line or someone feeling comfortable enough to ask what the term “cis-gendered” meant. The summit provided a safe space for everyone to stretch their comfort zones.”

Das-Humphrey went on to say that this year’s Inclusive Excellence Summit left her feeling  “fulfilled and energized, instilling a renewed faith in our Cornell community.”

Grace DePaull is a Communications Assistant in the Division of Human Resources.

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