Reflections on the University of Denver’s 10th Annual Diversity Summit on Inclusive Excellence

[This should have been posted four weeks ago!  Wow, May has been incredibly busy!]

10th Annual Diversity Summit on Inclusive Excellence

Friday, May 6, 2011 was the University of Denver’s 10th Annual Diversity Summit on Inclusive Excellence – the largest program I work on in my role at the Center for Multicultural Excellence.

The Summit has grown significantly.  Ten years ago, 25 people participated.  When I got involved 250 people participated in the Summit.  This year, I wanted to grow and expand the Summit both in terms of content and participation.  We have been spending the daylong conference on understanding diversity and inclusion and discussing research in the field.  Our community was ready for putting these ideas into practice and understanding why diversity and inclusion truly matter.

I co-led a committee of 32 students, staff, faculty, administrators, and alumni in the development of a new program: we built on the educational foundation of the summit while expanding into three tracks: Business & Industry, P-20 Education (pre-school through higher education), and Philanthropy & Community.  There were many more opportunities for focused tracks, but we thought these would be a good testing ground for focusing on how diversity and inclusion are of value in each of these arenas and why our constituents need to learn about and apply diversity and inclusion in order to be successful now and in the future.

We had approximately 650 participants and evaluations have been extremely positive.  University leadership connected with our keynote message more than ever before, we connected with the broader community in news ways, and gained national exposure for our program.  Our speakers actually began to make their own connections and our Summit resulted in multiple new partnerships with long-term value and donations to the University.  Participants left with real, tangible action items and a better understanding of our focus areas.  In addition, our committee was able to embed the program as a University-wide program through a focus on cross-functional collaboration.

The feedback I received has been both positive and personally meaningful.  A friend who is a first-year student commented the following to me on Facebook:

I’m sorry I did not get the chance to attend the Diversity Summit today, I was REALLY looking forward to it, but I got very ill and ended up having to see a doctor to prescribe some medicine. Hopefully I can attend next year! You’ve been a great role model to many of us freshmen and i wish you luck on your endeavors after you graduate!

I was in the library the day after the event and someone else came up to me and said “I saw you at the Diversity Summit on Friday and wanted to let you know that you did a really good job – it was a great event.”

I share this feedback because I believe that the collective efforts of multiple people made the Summit a success.  If my role in that and in the other things in which I have been involved have positively influence people, then I am leaving the legacy at the University of Denver that I hope to.  All of us need to think about how we can improve our communities and how we can develop meaningful interactions, relationships, and friendships.

So many people helped make the event a success.  Thank you to our amazing committee and the great speakers and presenters who contributed to an amazing event!

Click here for a copy of our e-program with details on the 10h Annual Diversity Summit on Inclusive Excellence.

Click here for some pictures from the Summit.

Student Employee of the Year Press Release

The Office of Student Employment sent out this press release about the award I received.  It is way too kind, but people tell me I should share it so here you go:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE April 14, 2011                                                                                      

Contact: Marlena Hartz, 303.871.6795

DU’S JOEL PORTMAN NAMED 2011 STUDENT EMPLOYEE OF THE YEAR

His resume rivals some professionals twice his age.

By June, the 23-year-old will have earned a bachelor’s degree in International Studies and a master’s degree in Business Administration. Somehow, he found time last quarter to work 20 hours a week, complete a full load of courses, and launch and maintain an entire social media network for a national diversity training company. He helped nearly double participation in a University of Denver diversity retreat in less than two years. If you don’t know his name, you should. Meet Joel Portman, the 2011 DU Student Employee of the Year.

University of Denver Director of Financial Aid Chris George announced the winner of the annual title Wednesday at the Ice Cream Social Awards Ceremony in the Gottesfeld Room of the Ritchie Center. The Math Department Team – comprised of Sarah Caulkins, Nikki Chen, Grace Horwath, Juan Valles and Molly Webber – was named Student Team of the Year.

For the last two years, Portman has built a foundation of practical knowledge in diversity issues as a program coordinator at the Center for Multicultural Excellence at DU. Prior to joining the staff, the St. Louis native volunteered his time at the center.

“Joel is mature, wise, and professional beyond his years,” according to his supervisors, Johanna Leyba,  the Assistant Provost for Inclusive Excellence, and Thomas Walker, Program Director of Intergroup Relations  & LGBTIQ. “Many people on and beyond the campus have assumed he was a full-time, veteran staff member based on how he carries himself and represents the university.”

When the Center for Multicultural Excellence lost an assistant director last spring, it was Portman who filled the gap, ensuring the center’s major projects – the Diversity Summit, Voices of Discovery Intergroup Dialogue Program and Diversity and Unity Retreat – had proper administrative support.

His employment has been an integral part of his learning experience at DU. “I’m able to bring a different perspective to the table (in class),” he says. Even better in his eyes: “The work I’m doing here impacts the entire campus.”

Plus, “CME is more like a family than an office,” Portman says. While CME staff keeps work fun, they confront serious social justice issues, often involving issues of identity, ethnicity, sexual orientation and privilege. One of their goals is to create a more welcoming campus. Joel wants to extend that mission to the larger, business world.

The Eagle Scout and former Hillel staffer says he feels obligated to use his privileges – as an educated, white male – to shape a more equitable world.

“My theory is there is a lot of potential in this world,” Portman says. “I’ll do whatever I can do to make sure everyone has an equal part at the table.”

More information about Portman, the Math Department Team and Student Employment Appreciation Week can be found athttp://www.dustudentemployment.blogspot.com/ or http://www.du.edu/studentemployment/seaw.html.

Student Employee of the Year Nomination

My awesome supervisors at the Center for Multicultural Excellence nominated me for the Student Employee of the Year Award at the University of Denver.  The Office of Student Employment has highlighted the nominated students on their blog.  Here is what they wrote about me:

Joel Portman far exceeds expectations. Not only is he reliable and exacting in his work, the 2011 Student Employee of the Year Nominee has implemented processes that improve the overall quality of work at the University of Denver Center for Multicultural Excellence, according to his nominators, Johanna Leyba, Assistant Provost for Inclusive Excellence, and Thomas Walker, Program Director of Intergroup Relations.

Leyba and Walker attest Portman has built a strong network of student leaders, administrators, faculty and staff, which he draws upon to encourage engagement in CME projects. During a staff change, Portman stepped up, handling the organization of key CME programs, including the 2011 Diversity SummitVoices of Discovery, and the Diversity and Unity Retreat. Portman plans to graduate in June through the 4/1 program. He will have earned a bachelor’s degree in International Studies and master’s in Business Administration.

On a Stormy Sea of Moving Emotion

Today was the Diversity & Unity Retreat.  I know I have much to update on here (I have not really blogged in a few weeks), but I’d like to offer some of my takeaways from the weekend.  Some of these are related to the actual content of the event, but more than that is how the Retreat has/may set the context for where I am in life more generally right now.

I learn so much from the people with whom I interact.  I spent 23 hours with 130 Retreat participants who challenged themselves and each other on how to comprehend topics of diversity and inclusion, how to grow in their own identities, and how to transform this passion and knowledge into becoming allies for each other and towards creating positive change on university campuses.  I witnessed so many people who got out of their comfort zones and challenged themselves to engage differently.  Too often, we become complacent within our own safe zones, our own communities, our own knowledge.  I am amazed at how much we can transform in such a short period of time.  I hope that the new knowledge and understanding gained by participants will continue to fester and develop.  If that happens, I have much hope in the future.

Thomas and I worked with a group of 12 students (10 undergraduate and 2 graduate) to develop content for the Retreat.  We worked with them on curriculum development, event write-ups, training methodologies, and discussion/facilitation skills. We call this group the Core Team.  Mia and I began the group last year and we expanded upon their role for this year’s Retreat.  Our first Core Team included many of my best friends who also happened to be leaders of diversity work on campus.  Most of them graduated last year and I was unsure at first about how I might interact with this year’s group of students.  While I knew each of them from other activities, our relationship was different and for the most part, they were several years younger than last year’s group.

After this weekend, I am proud to say that we could not have had a better group of student leaders.  Their passion, dedication, hard work, and skills are an inspiration and I am so proud to have had the opportunity to be a part of such a group and help them develop as individuals.

Yet, it was also me who developed in the process.  I sometimes become frustrated at diversity events when people “don’t get it” or when I attend sessions that I “know.”  But I learn from the people with whom I interact.  And my knowledge and skill set are constantly challenged and transformed from the work that I do.  I am thankful for every person at the Retreat who has also helped me as I become the person I want to be.

We spent some time talking about identity development models – how each of our social identities develops/transforms overtime, at different levels, and at the same time as our other identities.  We had an incredibly diverse group of participants (and not just in the “usual” dimensions of the term).  This morning when I was standing in the middle of the circle of participants, I reflected on my whiteness.  I’m not entirely sure what it was that made me think this way, but almost as if someone hit a button, I was instantly aware that I was a white person leading the Retreat.  Would it be seen as though the majority person was trying to tell the minority people what “they” needed to do?  I hope not.

I certainly do not have all of the answers.  I just try to do my part to make the world a better place.  Hopefully I am able to impart some wisdom on other people, just as other people constantly teach me and challenge me.  In that process, I think it is important for each of us to recognize and own our own identities and engage ourselves as we try to discover who we are and how we interact with others.

Over the past year, I have filled out a lot of forms asking me what my career goals are and what my intended career path is.  Here is the short answer: it depends.  My long term goals are to be successful, both personally and professionally, and to be able to use that success and my position (whatever it may be) to create positive change in the world.  I want to do my part to make the world a better place, where each of us can be recognized, welcomed, included, and respected equally.  How I get there is yet to be determined. I have no set path that I feel a need to take.  Whatever field or industry I end up in, I will try to position myself for my long-term goal.

I had a conversation this weekend with someone about my goals/career path.  I shared that I sometimes wonder whether a MBA was the right choice.  Perhaps I should have pursued a degree in higher education so that I continue my work on student engagement and university development.  There is no right or wrong answer and I am committed to the MBA.  Hopefully, the business world will provide me the opportunities I seek.  And who knows – I could return to higher education sometime in the future.  The path leads in many directions.

In case you were wondering, the title of this post is a line from “Carry On My Wayward Son” by Kansas.  It is a great song that offers opportunity for reflection on one’s place in life.  As I consider my experiences with the Diversity and Unity Retreat, I am well aware that my path is in flux.  The fact that I graduate with two degrees and have to move to the next stage in my life in ~13 weeks is still surreal to me.  Just as I offered opportunities for thought and reflection to event participants, I reflect on my own privileges and opportunities.  Hopefully, I am able to engage and challenge myself to use them for positive outcomes in the years to come.

11:11

It’s 11:11 and it’s time to make a wish.  Here it is: a future of happiness, health, prosperity, love, family, and friendship.

I am in an interesting place in life.  I’ve finished my undergraduate degree at the University of Denver.  Yet, I am still here.  I am here working on a Master of Business Administration degree.  I really enjoy what I am learning.  But it’s different.  Mostly good different, but in some ways, just different in that I miss the way it used to be.  I have to start looking at the rest of life.  Next year no longer implies the classes I will be taking.  Now it means the rest of my life.

My social circles are constantly evolving.  I have recently spent time with both old and new friends in Denver.  I have gotten to know so many people over the past few years that it is sometimes difficult to balance all of my friendship commitments, but I certainly try my best.  I have grown with many great people whose friendship I value strongly and with whom I hope to stay friends for a long time to come.  I have also connected/reconnected with some wonderful people this past year.  I have found people who encourage, challenge, and love me.  I have found people who share and listen and support – relationships in which I certainly reciprocate these activities/feelings.  These are people not only from Denver or the United States, but all over the world.

I also talk with many of my good friends from home (St. Louis) on a regular basis.  People who I grew up with.  People with whom I have relationships and inside jokes that sound outrageous to everyone else.  These are people who I cherish and whose support I have appreciated while not always being physically present.  I am incredibly blessed by the people in my life.

Scouting has been a huge piece of my becoming who I am.  Many of the values and skills I have learned and acquired have been developed through the Scouting program.  My summers at camp led me to some of my best experiences and best friends.  I miss camp.  I miss the experiences, the impact we had, and the friendships we built.  I hope that I can reenergize my involvement with Scouting after graduation that my future children and millions of other youth will have the same amazing experiences that I had.

I work part time on campus and collaborate with students, staff, faculty, and administrators from across campus.  I have been very fortunate in the relationships I have developed over the past five years.  I have learned a lot and grown immensely.  I am understanding the value of individuals and groups and connections between them all.  It has been awkward at times though when I’ve gone out and interacted socially with other students who I have supervised or met staff or faculty “off the clock” – especially when they think I work full time for DU.

My field of diversity/inclusion programming, training, strategy, project management, etc. is incredibly rewarding and at the forefront of social change, while remaining incredibly challenging at times.  I can see the positive impact of my work.  I was once told by a mentor to think about my work, my capabilities, and my opportunities and utilize them in shaping and creating a positive lasting legacy at the university.  I believe that I am being successful at doing that.  Hopefully, others will agree.

In the midst of this I am looking to the future: what are my options for long term employment post-graduation (June 2011)?  I am trying to do everything I can to best utilize all of my resources, network, explore opportunities at every turn.  In this process, I am trying to determine my personal worth (read: what type and quantity of compensation am I seeking) while determining my values and the weight to assign to each of them.  Among the plethora of things I am working to consider are: family, friends from home (St. Louis), friends from Denver, friends from everywhere else, job function, job duties, living location, company culture, long term impact of short term decisions, company/job prestige, opportunities for personal and professional growth, and much more.

I have had conversations recently about how to represent yourself online.  I have professional and personal profiles online, all of which offer accurate depictions of me and my life.  Nevertheless, I am constantly impressed when I find people who can write honestly about their feelings and beliefs without fear of how they might be interpreted or any potential future repercussions.  I’ve tried to be honest in sharing my feelings in this post.  I hope to challenge myself to continue to do so.

So, here’s to the future!  While the future may be uncertain, I can always reflect on where I am, where I came from, where I am going, and the people and experiences that have supported me along the way.  If you are a part of my life, thank you!  I am who I am because of you.  There is so much more to say, but who yet knows what those things will be…

In the meantime, perhaps the following song will offer some insight into this path we call life:

How the time passed away? All the trouble that we gave
And all those days we spent out by the lake
Has it all gone to waste? All the promises we made
One by one they vanish just the same

Of all the things I still remember
Summer’s never looked the same
The years go by and time just seems to fly
But the memories remain

In the middle of September we’d still play out in the rain
Nothing to lose but everything to gain
Reflecting now on how things could’ve been
It was worth it in the end

Now it all seems so clear, there’s nothing left to fear
So we made our way by finding what was real
Now the days are so long that summer’s moving on
We reach for something that’s already gone

Of all the things I still remember
Summer’s never looked the same
The years go by and time just seems to fly
But the memories remain

In the middle of September we’d still play out in the rain
Nothing to lose but everything to gain
Reflecting now on how things could’ve been
It was worth it in the end

We knew we had to leave this town
But we never knew when and we never knew how
We would end up here the way we are
Yeah we knew we had to leave this town
But we never knew when and we never knew how

Of all the things I still remember
Summer’s never looked the same
The years go by and time just seems to fly
But the memories remain

In the middle of September we’d still play out in the rain
Nothing to lose but everything to gain
Reflecting now on how things could’ve been
It was worth it in the end

 

Winter Quarter Class Summary

I’ve now completed my first week of Winter Quarter and am getting ready for the second week.  This quarter may be my most difficult yet.  There will certainly be a lot of reading/work.  Work at CME is also keeping me busy.  This quarter, we have the Diversity & Unity Retreat and Voices of Discovery, two programs I am planning with Thomas.  I am also doing a lot of work for the Diversity Summit on Inclusive Excellence (big expansion this year, held in May) with Johanna.

I am taking four classes this quarter.  Here they are with some initial thoughts:

Strategic Cost Management

This class has an interesting topic that I’ve never really though about before.  I’m hoping to get a more integrative understanding of managerial accounting.  My professor is a nice old guy who clearly knows the material.  However, I’ve already been lost in class and there is a ton of work for this class, most of which has to be done with a partner.  Luckily, I have a good one.

Ethics for the 21st Century Professional

This class is very interesting and multidisciplinary.  It covers leadership, management, law, public policy, etc.  I like my professor a lot.  It has a good amount of work and effectively utilizes Blackboard by dividing up readings, discussion boards, and quizzes into “learning modules”.  I know a lot of the people in this class so that makes it a lot of fun as well.

Strategic Management

My Professor is extremely knowledgeable and has great experience.  We will be covering a lot of material and fast.  It will be a lot of work, but I think I will really enjoy it.  We have several team case analyses and I have a good group with people I know.

Law and Public Policy

I’ve always been interested in this topic and now I get to take a class that also relates it to business.  A good fit.  We have a lot of reading for this one too and several longer papers/presentations on different cases.  My professor seems to be a nice guy.

DU’s and Denver’s Reaction to Recent Suicides

The recent string of suicides of young gay males has not gone unnoticed at the University of Denver or in the Denver community.  Today, Thomas Walker, Associate Director of the Center for Multicultural Excellence and LGBTIQA and Social Justice Initiatives Coordinator was interviewed by 9news, Denver’s NBC affiliate.

Check out Thomas’ video and the associated story:

DENVER – The recent suicides of five gay teens has brought national attention to the issue of harassment and bullying of gay students on many campuses.

An estimated one-third of all suicides among younger populations involve people in the gay community.

“We are seeing shocking numbers of suicides and suicidal thoughts,” says Hope Wisneski, Denver Executive Director of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) Organization.

Just in the last month, 5 young men, as young as 13 years old, have taken their own lives.

The most recent was 18-year-old Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University Student.

Prosecutors say his roommate and another student streamed live images of Clementi having intimate relations with another man. Clementi jumped off a bridge three days later.

“I felt bad that he thought that was his only option,” says Dr. Thomas Walker, Associate Director of GLBT Services at the University of Denver.

But, he says, these numbers are nothing new.

“Unfortunately, students, young people, even older folks, hurting themselves or taking their own lives is something that happens more often than we’d like for it to,” says Walker.

“We know in Colorado that we have recently surveyed 300 participants, 40 percent of which said they have seriously considered suicide,” says Wisneski.

Wisneski also says that 70 percent of teenagers have reported feeling unsafe at school.

“There are resources that are available. If you’re struggling, it can get better. It can be better,” says Walker. “Here on our own campus I have a number of people contact me asking how they can help and what they can do to help people who are hurting,” says Walker.

“People are starting to realize and really honor and acknowledge how hard the world can be for some people and how hard our society makes it for people to be who they are. And when we learn about the lack of acceptance out there and learn about people being bullied to the point they take their own lives, I hope that it allows people to take a second and stand back and really understand how much it impacts us,” says Wisneski.

For those seeking more information or help, visit http://www.glbtcolorado.org, or contact the Colorado Anti-Violence Program at 303-852-5094.

(KUSA-TV © 2010 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

As well, the University of Denver sent the following email out to the DU community today:

To the DU Community:

As has been reported in the national and local press, there have a spate of youth suicides in the past few weeks by people targeted with specific or ongoing anti-LGBT bullying and harassment.  A just released national survey report in which DU students, staff and faculty participated (www.campuspride.org) sadly documents that the exclusion, intimidation, and devaluation of LGBTIQ classmates and colleagues is not occasional or uncommon at campuses across the United States.

The University of Denver is fully committed to an active engagement of all of our community members. Our diversity of perspectives, experiences, and identities is not just tolerated at DU, it is celebrated as creating the intellectual vibrancy that is fundamental to the University’s mission (see www.du.edu/chancellor/diversityStatement.html). There is no place at DU for words or actions that disrespect, discriminate, harass, or otherwise diminish or endanger others. We therefore call on our entire campus community – DU students, faculty, staff, and administrators – to refrain from behavior that excludes or intimidates others whatever their identities, and to intervene to prevent such behavior if it threatens to occur.

We do have resources at the University that are available for you or someone you know who needs support in the face of recent events, and we encourage you to use them. They include:

•    The Center for Multicultural Excellence (CME) supports broad equity and LGBTIQ & Ally specific programs and campus organizations, including Queer & Ally (Q&A) trainings. Multicultural Center (Asbury & University), (303)871-4614; www.du.edu/lgbtiqa.

•    DU’s Health & Counseling Center offers group and one-on-one counseling to address specific issues and/or improve the overall academic experience. Ritchie Center 3rd Fl North, (303)871-3853; www.du.edu/duhealth/counseling.

•    GVESS provides prevention and response training and resources for those affected by interpersonal violence, including sexual assault. Nelson Hall 103, (303)871-2220,www.du.edu/studentlife/Sexual_Assault.

•    The Office of the Chaplain is available to the entire DU community regardless of faith affiliation, or no affiliation at all. Driscoll South 29, (303)871-4488;www.du.edu/studentlife/religiouslife.

•    Campus Safety partners with campus constituents to prevent and respond to situations that put the campus community at risk.  In emergencies, dial 911 and then (303)841-3000. General inquiries (303)871-2334; www.du.edu/campussafety.

As the new academic year continues, we invite you to take advantage of these resources and the wide array of campus programs and activities to learn about the rich diversity of our University of Denver community.

Sincerely,

Robert Coombe    Gregg Kvistad

Chancellor            Provost

Hopefully, the situation for everyone will improve – we can all strive to be more understanding, welcoming, accepting, inclusive.

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