Health and Human Services' DEI office looks forward at end of successful year

Contact: Joel Krauss

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—“Sometimes from week to week, or month to month, it feels like you’re not getting anything done,” says Dr. Betty Dennis, director of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Western Michigan University's College of Health and Human Services. “But then when you look back at everything that’s happened over the course of the year, you realize just how much you have accomplished. I’m very proud of everything our group managed to accomplish this year.”

Dr. Deirdre Cooper Owens speaks with Dr. Betty Dennis at the 2022 CHHS DEI Conference

Dennis’s reflection comes just a few weeks after the committee hosted its biennial Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Conference at the end of March. This year’s conference and the 2022 Burian Lecture, co-sponsored by the WMU Center for Humanities, featured Dr. Deirdre Cooper Owens who spoke about her book, "Medical Bondage: Race, Gender and the Origins of American Gynecology."

The free event was offered in a hybrid format for 2022, with just about half of the registrants attending in-person at the college, and half tuning in to a livestream. Recordings are available on the DEI website.

In addition to the conference, which always requires a great deal of effort and coordination, the committee also hosted a number of smaller, virtual events organized by the groups Anti-Bias Training subcommittee. Topics ranged from “Ableism 101” to “Identity, Power and Privilege.” The largest of the virtual offerings was a student-led panel discussion about LGBTQ+ experiences in healthcare, which featured health care professionals from across the state discussing their varied experiences on both sides of the patient/caregiver relationship.

“The conversation about equity and equality has been very focused on race in this country,” says Dr. Ron Cisler, dean of the College of Health and Human Services. “And rightly so, especially in recent years. But now with women’s reproductive rights and LGBTQ+ rights prominently featured in political discourse, gender and identity inequality issues are sure to be more and more frequent and more urgent, as well.”

“I’m glad that our DEI office is already hosting those conversations and exploring those issues,” he adds.

In addition to events, the committee has subcommittees working on developing a code of ethics for the college, collecting and displaying DEI-related data for the college, and interfacing with student DEI groups within the college.

Over the summer, the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion will move downstairs and will be part of the Welcome Center, located in the CHHS building atrium.

Paul Syrette, Elder, First Nations Ojibwe, performs smudge ceremony at the 2022 DEI Conference

“My hope is that it will become a true affinity space for our students,” says Dennis. “We want this office to be a place where CHHS students, staff and faculty feel comfortable, so that they know they can bring up any concern about anything in the college.”

The DEI Office is being featured by the college in its Giving Day appeals this year.

“We’re hoping to use funding from Giving Day to help Dr. Dennis transform the DEI space into a warm and welcoming space for the whole college,” says Cisler. “And of course, to build on the hard work and success of this year, any additional funding can help us expand DEI programs in the college, to help us expand that impact on our students and in our community.”

The committee held its last monthly meeting in April and will next meet for a half-day strategic planning session to map out activities for the next academic year. 

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