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DEI at the University of Kentucky

Inclusive excellence at the University of Kentucky continues to be a priority in colleges, units and departments across the community. This site highlights and celebrates all of the inclusivity work happening in our community initiated and driven by passionate staff, faculty and students. Here, you can learn more about the various initiatives, read about diversity-related news and efforts from all areas of the UK community and find a comprehensive list of resources and organizations that promote belonging.

Visit https://dei.uky.edu for more information.

Graphic of many multi colored raised hands symbolizing diversity, equity and inclusion

More Than a Race: Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DEI) is Ongoing

Running is a major part of my life and I run daily. Running has several health benefits such as cardiovascular health, muscular strength, and bone density. I run for my physical health, but also for my mental health to relax, reduce stress, decompress, and process my thoughts. On my latest run, I thought about how everyone thinks of DEI as a race, even if they do not say it aloud. Most companies and executives believe that they can hire DEI leaders or do DEI initiatives and then DEI will be accomplished as if it was a checkbox of a long list of monotonous tasks. Unfortunately, this is not how cultural change is impacted or how true equity works.

When we mention the acronym “DEI”, we are discussing the terms “Diversity”, “Equity”, and “Inclusion”. During this article, we will take a deeper dive into what equity actually means. Equity is a concept that has various meanings, but in this context, we will refer to equity in the realm of social justice. In plain language, equity means fairness for all. To take a deeper dive into equity, we have to understand that equity describes fairness and justice in the way people are treated. Fairness means being impartial and just, without discrimination. Justice means giving each person what they deserve or what they need. When we view equity through this lens, we realize that equity means caring for individuals holistically, including all of their identities and perspectives. When we view equity in this way, we can ensure that resources and opportunities are created more fairly, and everyone has the opportunity for success.

Many times, people mistake equity for equality or treat them as synonyms, but they are not. Equity and equality are related, but we must understand that they are two distinct concepts. Equality refers to the idea that every person should be treated the exact same way, regardless of their identities, privilege, or oppression. Equality is a topic that has been pushed for several decades as a way of treating people because not all people were treated the same and marginalized individuals were discriminated against due to their identities. Equality was pushed to mediate this, but equality is not enough to counter this mistreatment. Equity is vastly different and refers to the idea that people are treated based on their individual circumstances to truly achieve fairness and justice. Equity means giving people what they need to be successful. To descriptively illustrate equality and equity in action, if you picture two people of different heights attempting to look over a fence, equality would mean giving both of them the same size box and expecting both of them to view over the fence.

With equality, we give people the exact same resources and expect the same results, but we must understand that we do not all come from the same exact starting point and disadvantages exist. To exemplify equity, the shorter individual would get a taller box and the taller person would get a shorter box. In doing this, both individuals could achieve the goal of viewing over the fence. Equity is giving people what they need to truly be successful. Unfortunately, many people are viewing environments and treating people with an equality mindset instead of an equity mindset. At the Human Development Institute at the University of Kentucky, we are working to create an equity-minded environment.

To us, an equity-minded workplace is an environment where all employees are treated fairly, and individual differences are acknowledged and celebrated. We are practicing this in a variety of ways, such as in our initiatives, identifying bias, building diverse teams, developing more equitable practices, providing opportunities for professional development, and transparently communicating. An example of an initiative we have started is sending an email including details about diverse holidays and observances at the beginning of each month. This allows all people to feel recognized, and it also allows people to gain new exposure and opportunities to learn about diverse events. We are actively identifying bias in policies and educating people at Monthly Diversity Discussions. Understanding our own identities increases self-awareness, assists with developing empathy, and allows us to gain compassion toward ourselves and people who have different identities than what we do.

The Human Development Institute is having a better understanding of the diversity within our team by promoting opportunities to reflect on our identities and by finding new ways to appeal to a wider range of candidates by building more inclusive job descriptions. More equitable practices are being developed by giving employees the resources they need and empowering them to access opportunities. Professional development opportunities are consistently created and shared with employees to build skills. Equitable communication is practiced through transparency. Communication is shared in a variety of ways such as emails, during ¾ office hours that are held monthly, and formally through performance evaluations. These are a few examples of how the Human Development Institute is creating a more equity-minded environment throughout our community. The equity-minded initiatives were not created instantaneously but have been managed over time with great colleagues.

Some people compare DEI to a sprint where we can do a ton of quick initiatives and it will be resolved quickly. Other people take a slower approach and treat DEI like a marathon where they take a more steady approach over time in hopes of one day being finished. This is a more reasonable thought process, but unfortunately, this way of thinking is not right either. We cannot think of DEI as a sprint, half marathon, or marathon. We cannot think of DEI as a race we can finish. DEI is ongoing, steady action. DEI cannot be sped through, and DEI is more than one person’s responsibility. It takes a whole team to change an environment into an equitable inclusive culture for all. At the Human Development Institute at the University of Kentucky, we are not treating DEI as a race. We are practicing DEI universally to promote a sustainable, equity-minded work environment where DEI is foundational and ongoing for us to truly impact social justice and accessibility

This article represents the opinions of the author and interviewee, not that of the University of Kentucky. 

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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.

April 2023: Critical Conversations: The Power of Storytelling

Individuals understanding their identities is important for a number of reasons. Understanding your own identity increases self-awareness and helps gain a deeper understanding of who you are and what motivates you. It also helps you develop empathy and compassion towards yourself and people who have different identities than what you may have. This helps build relationships and gives skills to navigate social and cultural contexts more effectively. This also leads to building a more inclusive community here at the Human Development Institute by recognizing that diverse identities exist and ensuring a welcoming environment. This contributes to our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion by understanding systems of oppression, finding ways to interrupt this, and finding how identities intersect with one another. This event took place at Coldstream.

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.

June 2023: Allyship & Advocacy

The June Monthly Diversity Discussion is titled “Allyship & Advocacy: How to Support the LGBTQ+ Community”. By attending this program, participants developed a better understanding of what LGBTQ+ adults are experiencing in this current climate we are living in. Attendees are also more likely to challenge bias, discrimination, or personal beliefs they previously held prior to attending this session. Participants gained practical knowledge and constructive skills that encourage them to advocate for individuals with marginalized identities in the spaces that they occupy and, in the spaces where that marginalized identity is absent.  Finally, this event increased attendees’ sense of connection and gave them a better understanding of people with identities that may differ from theirs.

July 2023: Amplifying Inclusion: Working with ASL Interpreters and the Deaf & Hard of Hearing Community

The July Monthly Diversity Discussion is an informative presentation with two American Sign Language Interpreters, Virginia Silvestri and Tia Henson. This presentation is an opportunity to have a better understanding of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community. Attendees will also have an opportunity to learn best practices and protocols when working with this population and with ASL interpreters.

August 2023: Understanding Disability Across the Lifespan

Our August Monthly Diversity Discussion is titled “Learning Never Retires: Understanding Disability Across the Lifespan.” The Human Development Institute’s very own, Dr. Harold Kleinert joined in this discussion. By joining this presentation, attendees gained a better understanding of the concept of disability as it evolves across the lifespan and identified the various types of disabilities that are encountered in the later stages of life. We also examined the role of societal attitudes and expectations in shaping the experiences of individuals later in life.

September 2023: Microaggression – Macroimpact

Microaggressions are subtle, often unintentional, verbal, or nonverbal behaviors that communicate negative messages to individuals based on their marginalized identities, such as sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, gender, or disability. Microaggressions are common in the workplace and can significantly impact mental health, well-being, and sense of belonging. Attendees at this presentation gained a deeper understanding of microaggressions, ways to foster inclusivity, and both their personal and professional development was promoted. Together, we can combat microaggressions and build a more inclusive environment for all.

October 2023: Mental Health Matters

Our October Monthly Diversity Discussion is titled “Mental Health Matters.” This presentation sheds light on the critical importance of mental health in our own lives and in the lives of individuals we work with. This event is an engaging discussion with Dr. Aesha Uqdah who is Associate Vice President of Health & Well-Being at the University of Richmond.

November 2023: Diversity Dialogue: Exploring Perspectives

Our November Monthly Diversity Discussion is titled “Diversity Dialogue: Exploring Perspectives.”  Colleagues from the Human Development Institute were able to join in discussion to share experiences, promote inclusivity, and foster personal growth. This discussion was an opportunity for HDI employees to reflect on their own experiences and critically discuss diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility. By attending this event, participants promoted inclusion, fostered a sense of belonging, enhanced awareness, and improved communication with colleagues across the Human Development Institute. This discussion was facilitated by members of the DEI Committee here at the Human Development Institute.  

January 2024: Breaking Through Burnout

Start the new semester and the New Year off with a plan by attending this session focused on “Breaking Through Burnout,” on Wednesday, January 3rd at 1pm via Zoom. Attendees joining this workshop can learn more about burnout, preventative strategies to manage stress, ways to set goals for a healthy work-life balance, develop resilience, and create a more supportive environment here at the Human Development Institute. Join this session to actively engage and learn more about creating plans to overcome burnout.

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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 nicholas.wright@uky.edu.