Attendees with presenter Joseph Santana.

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Cornell campuses unite at first Inclusion and Belonging Summit

With campuses spanning New York State and extending globally, Cornell’s community can sometimes feel dispersed and disconnected. To bridge these gaps and unite staff, the inaugural Inclusion and Belonging Summit was designed to cultivate collaboration among those dedicated to advancing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) at the university.

Held on June 12 and hosted at Weill Cornell Medicine, the event drew nearly 40 employees from Cornell’s main campus in Ithaca, Cornell Tech, Weill Cornell Medicine and other higher education institutions to New York City. The summit provided an opportunity for Cornell staff to build community, explore the evolving landscape of DEI in higher education and foster collaboration to advance DEI initiatives across various Cornell campuses.

Sonia Rucker, Fanesse George, Dr. Dana Crawford, and Omari Keeles.

“We wanted to bring together individuals who not only share a title but really understand the work in a very nuanced way and are looking to engage in conversations that are not only about pushing our work forward but ensuring that we have the capacity to do so,” said Omari Keeles, senior director of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging at Cornell Tech.

Sonia Rucker, associate vice president of Inclusion and Belonging, delivered opening remarks, encouraging attendees to use the summit as an opportunity to contemplate the future of DEI in higher education while cultivating community among those dedicated to fostering inclusive environments and driving systemic change.

Rucker noted that there are currently 30 bills across the country targeting DEI funding, practices and promotions. As of May 10, governors in Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Utah have signed these bills into law.

Joseph Santana presenting at the 2024 Inclusion & Belonging Summit.

“This is a reimagining,” Rucker said. “We don’t know what the next phase will bring. But if we can maintain our promise of discovery as we begin to think about a new way to do this work, we can ensure that it will continue to benefit those we serve. This is our space to think about the next phase of our work. Hopefully, it is something we can start today and continue forward. And I hope we can come together as a group to do so.”

Keynote presenter Dr. Dana Crawford echoed Rucker’s remarks and offered participants guidance and best practices for navigating DEI spaces. Crawford, a pediatric and clinical psychologist, developed the Crawford Bias Reduction Theory & Training (CBRT), a systematic approach to reducing bias, prejudice and racism.

Her presentation focused on addressing the challenges, trauma and moral injury present within the workplace and in the broader world. She emphasized the concept of psychological safety and the importance of freely expressing thoughts and ideas without fear of punishment. Crawford equipped attendees with tools and resources to help create strategic and sustainable action within themselves and their communities.

Other sessions and presenters throughout the day included using data to move DEIB forward with Keeles, a panel discussion with Cornell alumni Dr. Renee Alexander ’74, Cliff Christophe ’02 and Russell Franklin ’04 and a session on advancing DEI in the current legal landscape with Donica Varner, vice president and general counsel.

The summit concluded with two sessions focused on competencies for DEI leadership with Joseph Santana, CEO of Joseph Santana LLC, and building community partnerships with Tiffany Pham, founder and CEO of Mogul.

With the hopes of encouraging conversations and building connections across Cornell’s campuses, the summit provided a platform for attendees to share experiences, exchange ideas, and foster a stronger, more inclusive community.

“It's one thing to go to a conference and meet other people from different organizations,” said Fanesse George, director of the Office of Staff Diversity, Inclusion and Employee Engagement at Weill Cornell Medicine. “But it’s another thing to come together within our institution and discuss how we can strategize and move forward. We know that the DEI landscape is rapidly changing, and we must be ready and prepared to meet those challenges that lie ahead.”


The 2024 Inclusion and Belonging Summit was organized and sponsored by Cornell’s Department of Inclusion and Belonging, Weill Cornell Medicine Office of Staff Diversity, Inclusion and Employee Engagement and Cornell Tech.

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