Last year’s Equity & Inclusion Forums had huge impact on campus community; more to come with this year’s offerings

“Leaning into discomfort” – the act of pushing ourselves into places that make us think critically about ourselves, our actions, and our perceptions of the world and how they affect others – is never an easy thing.

Asking hundreds of faculty and staff on a college campus to embrace the feeling and lean with you is, of course, even harder – but that was the challenge facing Nick Sanchez, Western’s Employment Inclusion manager, when he responded to then-President Bruce Shepard’s charge to address Western’s critical cultural consciousness, an effort that became the Campus Equity & Inclusion Forums.

“These conversations were a long time coming,” said Sanchez, “Mostly because they ask so much of the participants. But it was my job to find the right folks who could bring in a group of people and facilitate those discussions, and we did that.”

While Equity & Inclusion month kicked off last October with keynote speaker Michael Benitez, Jr. and a host of events co-sponsored by on-campus partners such as Western Reads, the real focus of the effort came through the workshops offered on more than 20 different topics, all held multiple times during the school year and taught by a host of campus facilitators, from faculty such as Tara Perry (Communication Studies); Vernon Johnson (Political Science); and Heather Davidson (Communication Studies) to staff members such as L.K. Langley of the Equal Opportunity Office and Eileen Coughlin, senior vice president and vice president for Enrollment and Student Services.

The workshops focused on four central core areas of the Equity and Inclusion experience: Cultural Awareness of Self, Experiences of Others, Critical Conversations in the Workplace, and A Call to Action. More than 300 faculty and staff took at least one of the workshops offered by the forums, and 16 members of the campus community completed at least one workshop in all four core areas of the program, earning them a Certificate of Lifelong Learning.

“We were amazed at the response last year,” said Sanchez. “And we knew it would be another incredible challenge to continue to grow the forums and participation in them – but that is our goal for the coming year.”

Besides Benitez, the forums brought a number of important speakers to campus last year to help facilitate and lead discussions, from Civil Rights advocate Charlene Strong to multicultural educator Robin Di Angelo and actor Gary Giles.

This year’s Campus Equity and Inclusion Month will kick off from 6-8 p.m. on Thursday, on Oct. 20, in Miller Hall 138 with the keynote by Xicana writer, activist, poet and playwright Cherríe Moraga (right), a faculty member in Stanford University’s Department of Drama and Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity. Moraga’s visit is sponsored by the Associated Students’ Social Issues Resource Center, the Ethnic Student Center and Western’s Education and Social Justice program.

“It is great to see students taking the lead on issues like these and partnering in a way that allows faculty and staff to continue to be a part of the campus dialogue moving forward,” said Sanchez.

Sanchez said this year’s core group of facilitators will again press the campus community to “lean into discomfort” and push themselves to view the world through the lens of someone very different from them.

“Try walking in their shoes for a little bit. It’s impossible to come out unchanged when you really open yourself up to see the world from someone else’s perspective,” he said.

Or as Vernon Johnson said last fall, in regards to why he was an Equity & Inclusion forum facilitator, “Honest conversations about our society, about race and gender and social norms and roles – truly honest ones – have to involve everybody squirming a bit, feeling a little bit uncomfortable, even the professor,” he said. “My students still have things to say, after all these years, that make me pause and think ‘You know, I’ve never thought of it that way.’ And that’s really what it’s all about.”

Workshop schedules and sign-up information for fall quarter is available by clicking here or by going to All workshops are free to Western faculty and staff.

For more information on the impact of last year’s Equity & Inclusion Forums, see the comprehensive assessment report on last year’s effort at or contact Nick Sanchez at For more information on the upcoming forums, go to


Note: This is the first of four articles in Western Today about the upcoming Campus Equity & Inclusion Forum series; a new article will be published each week in October in support of Equity & Inclusion Month at Western. Seminars and offerings from the forum facilitators will run throughout the school year.