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Monthly Diversity Discussions

January 2023: Jewish Community & Antisemitism

The January Monthly Diversity Discussion focuses on the Jewish Community & Antisemitism. There has been an increase in disheartening experiences related to antisemitism and an increase in aggressive acts over the past two years. This is a topic that most people need additional education on to increase awareness and build inclusion. This discussion engages four panelists whose research focuses on Jewish Studies to discuss this topic.

February 2023: Black History Month: How to be Antiracist

Black History Month was created to focus attention on the contributions of African Americans to the United States. It honors all Black people from all periods of U.S. history, from the enslaved people first brought over from Africa in the early 17th century to African Americans living in the United States today. Race does not biologically exist yet is a social concept that influences our experiences and shapes our lives. Being antiracist means fighting against racism in all of its forms. This is how we can actively work to promote equity.

March 2023: Disability & Girlhood

The focus of the March Monthly Diversity Discussion was on the intersection of Disability & Girlhood. Dr. Anastasia Todd who is an assistant professor of Gender and Women’s Studies here at the University of Kentucky will join us. Dr. Todd’s research focuses on feminist disability studies and girlhood studies. They have a forthcoming book titled, Cripping Girlhood (University of Michigan Press), which is a winner of the 2022 Tobin Siebers Prize for Disability Studies in the Humanities. They have been published in Disability Studies Quarterly, Girlhood Studies, and Transformations: The Journal of Inclusive Scholarship and Pedagogy. Dr. Todd also teaches courses in feminist theory, disability studies, and affect theory. Join us an learn more about the intersectionality of Disability & Girlhood.

May 2023: Building Inclusive Excellence

Inclusive excellence refers to the framework for creating and sustaining a diverse, equitable, and inclusive community. The goal of inclusive excellence is to ensure that all individuals, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or other identities, feel valued, respected, supported, and have equal access to both opportunities and resources. Inclusive excellence emphasizes the importance of diversity and equity while recognizing that simply having diverse individuals is not enough to create truly inclusive environments. Inclusive culture requires intentional efforts to promote inclusion, eliminate barriers, create opportunities, and foster belonging. Join this conversation with Dr. Cristia Brown, Professor and Associate Dean of Inclusive Excellence for the Psychology Department at the University of Kentucky. This is an opportunity to learn practical approaches to prioritize inclusive excellence and create a more equitable and just society.

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HDI’s Commitment to Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion

by Dr. Nicholas Wright, Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are more than buzzwords for the Human Development Institute (HDI) at the University of Kentucky and DEI means more than just headcounts. In order to truly understand the magnitude of diversity, equity, & inclusion here at HDI, it is first important to understand what we mean when we use these terms. We view the term diversity as the presence of different identities including race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability, socioeconomic status, religion, age, political perspective, etc., and this in no way is an exhaustive list. When we use the word equity, we promote justice and fairness within HDI through policies and research. Understanding equity means that we first have to understand the causes of disparities in society and ensure that resources are distributed where they are needed. Inclusion at HDI provides an environment where employees feel genuinely welcome in all processes and places. Inclusion establishes that all individuals, but especially diverse individuals feel comfortable participating and developing to reach their full potential. Understanding diversity, equity, and inclusion in this way and committing to our understanding allow for the implementation of initiatives and policies to care for our employees to ensure that everyone feels that they genuinely belong and can be their authentic selves.

As Director of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion at HDI, I aim to find innovative ways for all 340+ employees to come together regularly for a purpose. With many HDI employees working remotely, this poses a challenge, but I view this as an opportunity for us to come together through technology to all grow as individuals and as a whole both professionally and personally. Monthly Diversity Discussions were introduced to achieve this goal, which is a series of events occurring once a month focused on various topics pertaining to diversity, equity, & inclusion. HDI staff accepted the Monthly Diversity Discussion series and eagerly joined the conversation. The first Monthly Diversity Discussion was in August of 2022 and 77 colleagues happily accepted the meeting invitation. The first Monthly Diversity Discussion focused on “Diversity, Identity, & Culture of Inclusion.” This event enlightened every one of our goals to make DEI a priority, bring people together in community, and create a culture of inclusion throughout HDI. Since the inaugural Monthly Diversity Discussion, we have extended this concept of inclusion by focusing on “Cultivating a Sense of Mattering” to discuss the importance of understanding that a sense of belonging is a sense of mattering, and to highlight ways we can instill this concept in ourselves and the people we work with. The October Diversity Discussion focused on “Cultural Bias” and invited national expert Dr. Allen Lewis, Jr. Dean and Professor at the State University at New York Downstate Health Science University, to discuss the impact of bias and discrimination in the workplace. HDI has a commitment to create an environment where differences are not only recognized and respected, but also celebrated. The November Monthly Diversity Discussion celebrated diversity by sharing individual traditions and food at an in-person event. The most recent, December Monthly Diversity Discussion focused on “Barriers to Advancing Diverse Populations” at HDI. This work was guided by HDI’s two-year strategic plan, and we had approximately 60 colleagues RSVP for this event. Conversations surrounding barriers here for underrepresented groups were initiated which reaped a wealth of information. These monthly diversity discussions have achieved our goal of coming together for a purpose and growing both personally and as an institute.

We are actively coming together to find connections and work in collaboration. HDI has a committee dedicated to disability, equity, & inclusion. The DEI committee allows for support to be built and opportunities for connection. I believe we are each other’s greatest resource, and the DEI committee is actively accomplishing that goal. From the main DEI Committee, two workgroups were formed to carry out the strategic plan. The first workgroup’s mission is to recruit, develop, and retain talent having knowledge, skills, and abilities that contribute to advancing HDI’s mission, with a focus on increasing representation from diverse populations. The second workgroup will identify and address barriers reducing or preventing the advancement of underserved groups within the Institute. These workgroups actively work on the strategic plan and encourage further development by giving leadership opportunities. These workgroups also allow for collaboration and ensure that everyone understands they are active members in the decision-making process.

HDI strives for an inclusive environment and culture where all people can be their true selves and genuinely belong. Through the Monthly Diversity Discussions, and committees focused on diversity, equity, & inclusion, we strive to be a leader in diversity at the University of Kentucky and the state of Kentucky. Fostering an inclusive and diverse HDI community is crucial to fulfilling our mission: to advance efforts that build inclusive communities, address inequities, and improve the lives of all people who experience disability across the lifespan. This is the Human Development Institute’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. As Director of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion, my focus is on DEI, but DEI is everyone’s responsibility. I challenge you to make the commitment as well and find opportunities to gain knowledge in DEI to become more multiculturally competent. Gaining this knowledge will enhance communication and strengthen relationships throughout HDI. Whether you get involved in the Monthly Diversity Discussions, the DEI committees, or any other DEI initiative, I encourage you to always find ways to gain additional knowledge in diversity, equity, and inclusion. By doing this, we can ensure that the Human Development Institute is a great place for everyone to learn, work, and grow.

HDI Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Director invites wider UK community to seek out HDI resources

“There’s only so much time on this earth, and the majority of our life is really spent asleep. Next to that, it’s spent at work,” said Dr. Nicholas Wright, UK Human Development Institute Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. “So I want to make sure people understand they can be their authentic self. They can be genuine, and they have a sense that they matter here.”

The Human Development Institute (HDI) employs over 300 disability researchers, advocates, communication specialists and more at the University of Kentucky, collectively working toward a mission to build inclusive communities, address inequities and improve the lives of all who experience disability.

Dr. Wright entered the role of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Director at HDI in June 2022. He serves on HDI’s leadership team working on the institute’s strategic plan, conducting research, hosting diversity discussions for staff, teaching academic courses and serving as a direct resource for HDI researchers. Dr. Wright invites the wider UK medical and academic campuses to reach out to him as well with questions about accessible research, survey design, inclusive language training and more.

“I know that at times when we think about diversity and inclusion, they can become buzzwords to a lot of people. It’s just a part of their strategic plan–maybe part of the diversity statement. But I want people to know that the Human Development Institute is actually doing something,” said Dr. Wright.

HDI’s mission is grown and actualized through inbuilt reflexes for diversity, equity and inclusion. Its staff-initiated DEI committee, which will now work in partnership with Dr. Wright, works to hold the institute accountable to its purported DEI efforts. Two internal workgroups focus on the recruitment, retention and development of diverse identities, along with identifying and addressing the barriers preventing the advancement of underserved groups within the Institute.

As efforts flourished, HDI Executive Director Dr. Kathy Sheppard-Jones saw the evincive need for designated DEI leadership and expertise in order to sustain HDI’s kinetic growth in research and training initiatives and to further build the capacity of its staff. The candidate selection process for a DEI director was elaborate and thorough. All HDI staff were invited to give feedback in the candidate selection process.

“He’s engaging with our classes, getting to know staff, and doing a lot of listening. That will provide a great foundation to build upon across all of our work. I’m so glad that Dr. Wright is part of our HDI team,” said Sheppard-Jones.

A prominent focus of HDI’s DEI efforts at present is its recruitment process–from inclusive language in job descriptions to visibility in its job postings. With the support of the workgroups and the rest of the HDI leadership team, Dr. Wright is working toward an equitable representation of its staff as compared to state and national diversity data. The data-driven initiative is far more than a quantitative goal for the sake of a report, though, with the crux of HDI’s work culture built upon a familiar disability adage: nothing about us without us.

“I’m a multiracial man in my upper 20s that has a traumatic brain injury and is married. The reason why I say those things is because that is my background. That is the perspective that I view life through, and that is going to change the way I approach certain situations and certain questions.”

Diversity has many aspects that often intersect with each other, creating identities. A challenge, Dr. Wright notes, is that disability is often ignored in conversations about diversity and inclusion.

“Historically what’s happened is that decisions are made about people, and no person that the decision impacts is actually at that table making those decisions. It’s challenging to think what these people may want when we don’t have those perspectives represented,” Dr. Wright said.

“When we don’t have diversity, what happens is that questions come up, and if everybody in the room has the same or very similar experiences, perspectives or identities, the question isn’t answered holistically… Certain people are forgotten about and overlooked. That is a huge problem,” Dr. Wright said. “By having diversity, we get a more holistic answer. In this way, we can truly find solutions.”

With an extensive background in student affairs, including his role as director of a student accessibility office, Dr. Wright’s work thrives where accessibility, inclusion and education intersect. He emphasizes that he wants to continue working with students. In the fall semester, he taught HDI 350, a universal design course for undergraduate students and HDI 600/601, a graduate course and practicum connected with HDI’s LEND program.

We are all lifelong learners, Dr. Wright says. Wherever you are on your learning path–whether you have a PhD, an MD or you’re an undergraduate student—we can create inclusive spaces and do impactful work.

“I’m more than happy to provide training or however else we can do it with people in the University of Kentucky system. However, they want to reach out, I’m here to help,” he said. Dr. Wright can be contacted via email at

representations for models of all abilities clothing advertisement, photo of Ali Stroker for Aerie

Representation for Models of All Abilities in Clothing Advertisement

Written by Delaney Wickert

The popular athletic wear company Aerie has recently expanded their cast of clothing models to include individuals with a range of abilities. Aerie, a product of the popular clothing store American Eagle, has previously made strides in changing the culture of beauty representation in media through their promise to stop editing photos of their models wearing their clothing, in an effort to promote diversity and inclusivity of all body types. Aerie has continued to make efforts to represent diversity in their model campaigns through hiring models of all abilities to represent their clothing line. Their inclusion of these models shows visible disability representation throughout their brand. The company started a campaign in which they select a group of women who they name their “Role Models”. These women are selected who inspire positive change through their efforts, and make up a group of individuals stemming from diverse backgrounds, and possessing a range of abilities.

Previous Aerie Role Models who represent the disabled community have included Gold Medal Paralympian, Brenna Huckaby, a world champion snowboarder, included in the Aerie Role Models campaign in 2019. Brenna is commended for her fearlessness as she is a 3-time world champion snowboarder and mother, who has had to navigate losing her leg to cancer. Brenna uses her Role Model spotlight in order to encourage fearlessness, and stepping out of one’s comfort zone, as she believes mindset helps dictate success.

Molly Burke, a part of the 2020 Aerie Role Model Campaign, is a popular YouTuber and social media influencer who lost her sight at 4 years old. Molly is creating change through her motivational speaking and by sharing how she has overcome adversity in her life. Molly is committed to breaking stereotypes surrounding disability by sharing her lived experience on her social media platforms. Molly describes in her article on the Aerie website ‘“I’m making a difference by authentically sharing my story as a disabled woman, and not sugarcoating it or choosing to conform to the mold that people think I should fit.”’

Ali Stroker, a Tony Award Winning actress, and the first woman to use a wheelchair on Broadway, was also featured in the Role Model campaign. As a child, Ali always wanted to be a performer. Even though she had never seen someone using a wheelchair on Broadway, she decided to create that representation, and become a role model to those like her. Ali is now an accomplished singer and actress who inspires change on and off Broadway.

In addition to the Role Models Aerie highlights, they have also worked to represent women with visible disabilities and illnesses throughout all components of the advertisements, including models living with downs syndrome, insulin pumps, ostomy bags, wheelchairs, various support devices, and exhibiting a range of conditions such as fibromyalgia.

By showing visible disabilities and illnesses in their models, Aerie shows representation that many companies lack. Other brands have included multiple body types or gender expressions in their campaigns, however very little disability representation can be seen in clothing advertisements. Aerie’s inclusion of models ranging from all abilities, as well as highlighting those in the community who inspire positive change, help to set the precedent of disability representation in the modeling and advertising industry.

To get to know more about the Role Models mentioned visit:

Information About Breanna Huckaby

Information About Molly Burke

Information About Ali Stroker

Learn more about the Aerie Real Model campaign here.


Contributor. (2018, July 21). Aerie model brings national attention to ostomy awareness. United Ostomy Associations of America. Retrieved October 27, 2022, from

Get to know #aeriereal role model Brenna Huckaby. #AerieREAL Life. (2019, April 25). Retrieved October 27, 2022, from

Isabelle, Lizzie, & Collins, M. (2020, January 23). Ali Stroker, Tony Award winning actor. #AerieREAL Life. Retrieved October 27, 2022, from

Kim, S. (2020, February 3). Aerie continues to include authentic disability representation -Ali stroker joins #AerieREAL role model family. Forbes.Retrieved October 27,2022, from

Martha. (2020, January 23). Molly Burke, YouTuber & motivational speaker. #AerieREALLife. Retrieved October 27, 2022, from

Role models. #AerieREAL Life. (2021, August 17). Retrieved October 27, 2022, from

Photo of Mineral Industries Building with UK blue overlay and UK HDI logo in white

A Statement from the Human Development Institute

As you are likely aware, a violent racist assault took place at UK over the weekend. We at HDI stand with the University community voices in strongly condemning this incident that has no place on our campus or in our world. We know that we are better together. Our actions must authentically and genuinely express the values that we hold dear. We strive for diversity and inclusion in all our efforts, value all identities that shape the experiences of people with disabilities, and demonstrate respect for all individuals. We will continue to use our collective voice at HDI to build inclusive community.

We are actively working to create an inclusive environment and culture in the workplace by recognizing, appreciating, celebrating, and respecting individual differences and perspectives. We do this by providing activities for learning to take place, and actively engaging in these opportunities. Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion are key components of our work in reducing barriers and fulfilling our mission, to advance efforts to improve the lives of people who experience disability across the lifespan. We challenge everyone to constantly take advantage of opportunities for learning at HDI to gain exposure of diverse ideas, identities, and perspectives to continue to make the Human Development Institute a great place for all individuals to work, learn, and grow together.

If you need support as a result of the event on Sunday, please find resources shared by Provost DiPaola.


Dr. Nicholas Wright, Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Dr. Kathy Sheppard-Jones, Executive Director