Award-winning activist to deliver Inclusive Excellence keynote

Raquel Willis, an award-winning activist, journalist and media strategist dedicated to collective liberation, especially for Black trans individuals, will deliver the keynote speech at Cornell’s Inclusive Excellence Summit on March 26.

Raquel Willis

Willis has spent more than a decade advocating for Black and LGBTQ+ communities and has been nationally recognized for her work. In January 2017, she spoke at the National Women’s March in Washington, D.C., discussing the necessary inclusion of women and people on the margins in social justice movements. In 2020, Willis was named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 and won a GLAAD Media Award.

“It is important to ensure we’re elevating attention and awareness around serious concerns in the LGBTQ+ community, especially with the increase in anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, rhetoric and violence around the country,” said Erin Sember-Chase, DEI learning consultant in the Department of Inclusion and Belonging. “Raquel has dedicated herself to amplifying the voices and experiences of those on the margins while actively working on the ground to implement true systemic and cultural change, and we’re confident she is going to deliver a keynote that is exactly what is needed now.”

Willis’ keynote discussion will kick off the 2024 Inclusive Excellence Summit, an annual event for staff and faculty to learn and develop skills for cultivating a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace and fostering a culture of belonging at Cornell. Willis will focus on themes from her new memoir, “The Risk It Takes to Bloom: On Life and Liberation,” which traces her journey growing up in Augusta, Georgia to the University of Georgia where she first began navigating her gender and identity.

“I’m excited to give insight into my journey as an openly trans person navigating workplaces,” Willis said. “I’m also interested in sharing with folks at Cornell how these parts of my identity are universal elements to feeling othered or different in the workplace. You don’t have to be Black, trans, Queer or a woman to be invested in making spaces safer and more affirming for those groups.”

Willis is currently an executive producer with iHeartMedia’s first-ever LGBTQ+ podcast network, Outspoken, and the host of Afterlives, a podcast centering on the lives and legacies of trans folks lost too soon to violence. She is a former national organizer for the Transgender Law Center and former executive editor of Out magazine.

“There are so many barriers that stifle the growth and leadership of folks on the margins,” Willis said. “And when we don’t speak candidly about how systems of oppression operate, then we’re not putting our best foot forward to make sure everyone is being recognized and respected.

“Particularly in academia, there is often this insistence that to be unbiased is to strip away our histories and lived experiences. But every field of study is enhanced when people can fully show up as themselves. Part of resisting the silencing of these discussions, offices, institutions and initiatives is barreling forward with these conversations and being able to see how injustice against all of us is intertwined,” she said.

Willis’ keynote speech, “The Risk It Takes to Bloom,” and Q&A will be streamed virtually on March 26 at 9:30 a.m. The Inclusive Excellence Summit is free and open to all individuals interested in diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace.

Grace DePaull is a writer for the Division of Human Resources.

Media Contact

Abby Kozlowski