Mary Terry is a senior on the Women’s Track & Field and Cross Country Team. She is currently pursuing her degree in Health and Physical Education and is a member of the LEAD Diversity Fellows Program.
Leaders Engaged in Affirming Diversity (LEAD) fellowship program helped me grow in so many ways. Before LEAD my knowledge about diversity was average, and I wanted that to change. After LEAD I feel like I have developed more knowledge and awareness of my surroundings as it pertains to diversity and institutional diversity. LEAD is a one-year fellowship that reviews literature on diversity and leadership, while engaging with local and national diversity leaders discussing the topic of institutional diversity, which takes a look at diversity, equity, and inclusion in a college setting. This program focuses on diversity, equity, and inclusion on The University of Georgia’s campus. I was given the opportunity to be apart of LEAD with 8 other students across campus that are all motivated to enhance our leadership competencies, explore various facets of diversity, and learn about diversity, inclusion, and equity leadership. LEAD helped me to understand the importance of diversity as well as the need to advocate for more representation in public institutions.
Throughout the year, I was able to attend presentations from leaders all across campus and the community, including Arthur Tripp the Assistant to the President, Dr. Anneliese Singh, Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the College of Education, Victor Wilson, Vice President of Student Affairs, Blaine Williams, the fourth Manager of the Unified Government of Athens-Clarke County, and Meredith Gurley Johnson, Executive Director of the Office of Alumni Relations. We had the opportunity to work hand in hand with Michelle Cook, Associate Provost and Chief Diversity Officer, Dominique Quarles, Director of Diversity and Inclusion, and Gabriel Jimenez-Fuentes, Coordinator of Student Academic Success and Achievement. During the meetings with leaders on campus, we were able to discuss important topics related to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
The prior expectations and experiences I brought to the table before I was apart of LEAD vastly changed throughout my time in the fellowship. I wanted to be apart of LEAD to further grow and develop my knowledge about diversity, equity, and inclusion. I wanted to meet other students who have the same passion as I do, and I wanted to learn from leaders around campus and our community about these topics. LEAD helped expand my knowledge on diversity and taught me a lot of aspects of institutional diversity I previously did not know. Within our group we had students from all different backgrounds bringing different perspectives and knowledge to the table. I think this aspect of LEAD was one of the most beautiful parts about the fellowship. Students from all different backgrounds, sought to learn about diversity while growing closer to each other through open and honest communication. When many people hear the term “diversity” they immediately think of race, diversity is so much more than just race. Diversity takes a look at all aspects of people’s lives including religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and ability to name a few. I learned a lot from my partners in this fellowship, and they learned from me as we worked hand in hand to grow together.
I found this program to be one of the most rewarding and eye opening experiences throughout my time at The University of Georgia. For example, Dr. Anneliese Singh had us participate in an activity where we read a statement and grabbed a paperclip if that statement pertained to us. At the end of the activity, each of the students had our own chain, symbolizing the concept of privilege in our lives. Example questions would include, “I attended a private school or summer camp”, “One of my parents has been laid off or unemployed not by choice” or “I grew up in a home owned by my family” among many others. This activity was very eye opening for me because it displayed the privilege I have within my life. Upon the conclusion of each meeting, we discussed what we took away from the presentations, as well as how we can apply the message we heard to better shape our community.
At the end of the year, we were asked to come up with a potential project that would engage the campus and community on diversity issues. My partners and I developed a panel of people from all backgrounds, making sure we have a representative from every group possible in order to help bridge our community together. The goal is to have as many students; faculty and staff, and community members attend, listen, and interact throughout the panel. We would begin the panel by asking the participants, “What does diversity mean to you?” “What does equity mean to you?” and “What does inclusion mean to you?” Every person in the room will have a different answer and that is what makes this beautiful. These questions will not only allow you to process what it means within yourself, but the panel will allow you to step outside of processing these topics through your eyes and view it from a different perspective. There are no benefits to valued judgment, and this panel would serve as a learning forum where a safe environment will be fostered in order to connect every group in our community together. The panel would allow everyone to have a spirit of exploration and talk about challenging questions, in order to walk away with tools they can utilize to improve our community. The panel will also help students see the bigger picture of being respectful to everybody they cross paths with. Throughout our time researching for this project, we had eye-opening moments with each other that helped us see perspectives from every group member that helped us grow together as a group. We presented our projects in front of Dominique Quarles, Director of Diversity and Inclusion, and Gabriel Jimenez-Fuentes, Coordinator of Student Academic Success and Achievement. Every group presented, and it was a wonderful moment, because our group as a whole took our personal experiences as well as the knowledge we learned from this fellowship to create an event that we believed would bring our community together.
I think the Leaders Engaged in Affirming Diversity Fellowship is a phenomenal opportunity for other students to apply for. Everybody can learn something throughout this program that will stick with you for life and help you positively impact those around you. I absolutely loved being apart of this fellowship, and think it is imperative that every college and University has a similar program that dives into the topic of institutional diversity. The LEAD program at UGA is sparking a change, and I am very thankful that I was able to be a small part of the bigger picture of this program. I am incredibly appreciative that I had the opportunity to be apart of such an amazing program that sought to change the culture around these issues through open and honest conversation.