New symposium gives the university a head start on MLK events

Inclement weather put many Martin Luther King Jr. Day events on ice. But University of Oregon students, faculty and staff commemorated the annual holiday well in advance with a symposium themed “Be Oregon: Empowering our Beloved Community.”

On Jan. 10 and 11, participants networked and shared ideas during workshops focused on the university’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. The particulars may evolve, but organizers plan to make the symposium an annual event, said Lesley-Anne Pittard, assistant vice president for campus and community engagement.

“It was a productive and inspiring two days,” said Pittard. “This was an ambitious, innovative program that represents a new approach to this annual holiday.”

“We’re so grateful to everyone who participated,” she added. “I cannot think of a more fitting way to celebrate Dr. King’s legacy than building community and advancing this important work.”

Activities were planned to unite diverse university groups, as well as the university’s Eugene and Portland campuses. Pittard emphasized many different Ducks are doing important equity and inclusion work. Coordinating their distinct efforts, she said, will help all their work become more efficient and effective.

Lesley-Anne Pittard

“DEI work is not extra. It’s crucial to our success as a university.”

Lesley-Anne Pittard
Assistant Vice President for Campus and Community Engagement

Organizers kicked off the symposium with a chartered bus to Portland for Eugene faculty and staff members. They toured the new university campus and met with colleagues. In turn, a Portland delegation visited Eugene the second day.

Opening lines of communication between Eugene and Portland is crucial, said Sarah Kutten, assistant vice president for students and belonging at UO Portland. Meeting new colleagues was valuable, she added, and the group developed new strategies for sharing resources and programming.

“We’re all in this together, even though we may face different challenges and issues,” Kutten said. “There is much work to be done, and we can start by acknowledging and appreciating the people around us. That will create a framework for us to move forward in a sustainable way.”

Sarah Kutten

“Through networking, we can learn from our colleagues and join DEI projects that are already underway.”

Sarah Kutten
Assistant Vice President for Students and Belonging at UO Portland

While staff and faculty were collaborating in Portland, in Eugene student organizers were listening and learning. They met with student leaders, departments funded by the Associated Students of the University of Oregon, and university administrators to review past successes and explore future ideas.

The meetings represented an important first step toward developing a diversity action plan for the ASUO, said Vice President Finn Jacobson, who organized the sessions with Executive Secretary of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Melanny Abrego.

During the Lightning Round Listening Luncheon with President Karl Scholz in the Erb Memorial Union Ballroom, various university strategy and working groups shared current updates, past triumphs and hopes for the upcoming year. The brief presentations included longstanding university groups as well as emerging coalitions focusing on missions related to equity and inclusion.

The goal was for university faculty and staff members to meet others doing similar work, increase awareness about different university programs and build a network for future collaboration.

After this community-building exercise, UO Athletics gave a presentation about its successful “BEOREGON” initiative. The campaign to promote inclusion and celebrate diversity started at athletic events and has since expanded to include sessions led by student-athletes and staff-led training programs.

During the final working session, participants discussed possibilities for the future. Event organizers plan to review all the ideas shared over two days and develop action items for the upcoming year. They also hope to improve next year’s symposium and encourage participants to complete their survey.

—By Ed Dorsch, University Communications

Finn Jacobson

“I hope more students get involved in our DEI efforts and this work continues every year.”
Finn Jacobson
ASUO Executive Vice President

Melanny Abrego

“We have a great advocacy team that’s passionate about these issues. I want to coordinate their DEI work with what the university administration is doing.” 
Melanny Abrego
ASUO Executive Secretary of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion