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Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024
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President’s Council on Diversity & Inclusion holds town hall

Students and faculty convened to listen and discuss PCDI mission and upcoming projects

The Katzen Rotunda became the meeting ground for 13 members in the President’s Council on Diversity & Inclusion and the AU community on Feb. 22.

Chairwoman and theater professor Caleen Sinnette Jennings began the town hall by saying she wanted to let the community know what work had been done, and what the council still wanted to accomplish. 

“We are not a policy making body,” she said. “We review policy and advise the president by listening to the community.”

President Neil Kerwin announced the concept of the council last February. Since its launch, the council has been working on listening to the community, connecting people, offices, and systems, being a voice of campus constituencies and monitoring progress to hold the campus accountable for its goals. A crucial role this committee serves is advising the university president on diversity and inclusion.

After the committee's mission statement was read to the audience, Sara Bendoraitis, director of programming, outreach and advocacy, spoke about the new Allies Initiative.

“We need a way to promote ally development, broaden the education of the CDI [Center for Diversity and Inclusion], and we have to create an avenue of engagement for members of the community seeking inclusion,” Bendoraitis said. 

If the initiative takes off and becomes successful, Bendoraitis believes that “faculty and staff will feel more included, and will be provided by the PCDI with the best training to further positive conversation.” Along with this, she spoke about the need that the council found for a larger focus on “universal design to increase accessibility to all of campus.”

Following this, Kelly Alexander, director of public relations and manager of the media relations team, spoke about the the creation of a website for the council.

Alexander said the website is aimed to help the AU community connect to the PCDI and to provide guidance regarding institutional progress. The goal of the site is to direct issues regarding diversity to where they can be properly approached by the council, she said. 

Finally, before the “mix and mingle” planned by the council to engage with the audience, Sinnette Jennings brought up the transition that will come on June 1 as AU’s new president Sylvia Mathews Burwell takes office.

The council plans to advise and assist Burwell, who has not been in a position in higher education before. 

“The aim is for all of the faculty, staff, and students to feel included in this process,” Jennings said. “If we can provide the best training, we can most appropriately further those conversations on campus that need to be had.”

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