Clarksville, TN – This fall, Austin Peay State University (APSU) Interim President Dannelle Whiteside is partnering with APSU’s Office of Equity, Access and Inclusion and the University’s Diversity Committee for a new, campus-wide initiative – “A Place at Our Table.”
The purpose of this initiative is for campus community members to meet in small groups to discuss the nation’s racial and social challenges.
“After the events surrounding George Floyd’s murder, I gathered a small group of colleagues from varying backgrounds to have a series of conversations around building a habit of racial equity,” Whiteside said. “We had powerful exchanges and walked away with a deeper appreciation for each other and some ideas about moving the needle of achieving equity. I wondered what would happen if we encouraged those conversations to happen campus-wide.”
According to a campus email sent on September 9th, the initiative’s “group discussions will delve into the conscious and unconscious biases that affect how people may perceive the world, interact with others and envision the future.”
The University’s Office of Equity, Access and Inclusion will provide trained inclusion coaches to facilitate these meetings, with books, articles, TED Talks, webinars, movies and other media sometimes serving as the catalysts for meaningful conversations.
These discussion groups, consisting of 5-6 people, will meet regularly throughout the year, and all members of the APSU community – faculty, staff and students –are encouraged to participate.
“When LaNeeça Williams, chief diversity officer, and Marcus Hayes, chair of the University’s Diversity Committee, and I discussed the idea, we just felt that it was the right time to make something like this happen,” Whiteside said. “After the email went out – within a matter of two hours – we had over 30 individuals signing up to participate, which is a sign to me that people are longing for safe spaces to have needed conversations. I’m excited about the impact these conversations will have on our campus.”
That impact, Whiteside said, includes fostering a diverse, affirming and inclusive work and school environment.