The College of Communication and Information hosted its seventh annual Diversity and Inclusion Week September 26 – 30, 2016. Over 1,200 participants joined in the experiential learning sessions hearing from topic experts and engaging in dialogue and discussions. The 2016 theme was “Diversity & Inclusion: It’s Time,” and the daily themes were “The Culture Sphere,” “The Big Orange Sphere,” “The Public Sphere,” and “The Professional Sphere.” For a complete list of the week’s sessions, keynote address, panelists, moderators and a link to the session videos, see http://www.cci.utk.edu/cci-diversity-inclusion-week-2016.
Scripps Networks Interactive Senior Vice President of Network Human Resources Alaka Williams delivered the keynote address, “Your Time is Now,” on Wednesday, September 28. She spoke about what it was like growing up in Reston, Virginia, an internationally known planned community that was founded by Robert E. Simon in 1964. She also shared a story about a woman from her church who suggested she apply for a position at a local company. Later in the process, after being interviewed by a number of individuals at the company, Williams came for her final interview and discovered that the woman who had encouraged her to apply was actually the hiring manager for the position. “I gained more than a job, I gained a mentor,” Williams told the audience. “Someone took me by the hand, and now I have to reach back and grab someone else by their hand and walk with them through this world.”
Elizabeth Ritchie, executive director of Autism Breakthrough of Knoxville, articulated the challenges of adults with autism finding employment during Tuesday’s Profiles in Courage session moderated by WATE’s anchor Tearsa Smith. Ritchie’s autistic twin sons are thirty years old and their challenges inspired her to join forces with other parents of autistic children to form a non-profit focused on providing a wide-range of services and advocacy for autistic children. Ritchie shared that one of her son’s works for a local retail establishment where his obsessive focus on detail, ability to show up for work on time and his lack of interest in technology distractions while on the job makes him a great employee for the task assignments he needs to perform. This is an excellent example of the type of opportunities Ritchie’s organization seeks to find for adults with autism by increasing public and corporate awareness of their abilities.
During the “Diversity and Inclusion on Campus” session, advertising senior Kaylyn Harris encouraged her fellow students saying, “You have to be comfortable being uncomfortable and seek out opportunities to interact with those who are different/think differently than you do.” She gave examples of how she had learned and grown by putting herself in uncomfortable situations. Public relations sophomore Victoria Ogier, added that her study abroad trip was an eye-opening experience because she traveled to a place where she was “not in the majority.” She chose not to study abroad with her friends so that she would not be tempted to fall back on existing relationships and miss the opportunity to have an immersive cultural experience.
Other panels included: Diversity and inclusion and: privilege, media portrayals, law enforcement, politics, and the workplace, and workplace intergenerational diversity and inclusion. An open forum was held on Tuesday evening and the annual diversity festival was held on Thursday evening.
The CCI Diversity Festival in the Communications Building featured a barbeque, games, activities and a variety of cultural dance and musical performances. Student organizations were present to share information and to interact with those attending the festival. The festival attendees enjoyed the beautiful view from the new CCI patio while reflecting on the information rich week of knowledge sharing and awareness.
“Each year we build on our past success to create a unique, high-value experience for our students,” said Communication Studies Lecturer and CCI Diversity Student Leaders Society Director Alice Wirth. “Our students’ future employers expect them to be culturally competent and to seamlessly adapt to their workplace situation. Providing students with a knowledge about and respect for others who have different backgrounds and experiences is part of the skillset we hope to cultivate through CCI Diversity and Inclusion Week.”