Rethinking diversity at Multicultural Leadership Summit

“Why aren’t we there yet?”

This question from the Multicultural Leadership Summit’s opening keynote speaker, Dr. Shantel Buggs, launched discussions among participants, facilitators, and speakers on the progress of equality and inclusion initiatives in our world. More than 250 people representing at least eight universities were registered for the Jan. 26-27 summit, with a theme of CTRL + ALT + DEL: Rethinking Diversity Here & Now.”

Dr. Shantel Buggs, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology, answers questions
from students during the opening keynote of the Multicultural Leadership Summit on Jan. 26.
Photo/ Rachel Mulcahy

Despite the various reasons for the existence and persistence of these social issues, Buggs, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology, provided a hopeful message of why she thinks “there” is still attainable.

“I don’t think we have to have all the answers,” she said. “I think we have to work through them.”

The conference participants explored what it means to get “there” through a range of social issues.

Topics including cultural appropriation, divisions within racial communities, toxic masculinity, politics and the #MeToo social media movement were heavily reviewed and analyzed during the summit’s concurrent sessions, small group discussions and keynote speeches.

Each discussion and activity delved into new insights on the extent of these social issues, and shocked some participants, such as FSU student Bridget Duignan.

“I’m learning a lot about intersectionality and how to be more inclusive,” she said. “I went to a session on pop culture and social justice. It’s hard to grasp how much I don’t know.”

After identifying social issues through activities and discussions, a recurring call to action began to circulate.

Multicultural Leadership Summit participants talk about what they've learned during a small
group session on Friday. Photo/ Rachel Mulcahy

During his “Time to Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable” session, Richard Garzola analyzed how to better integrate minoritized people within communities and dismantle discrimination.

“It is better to be ignorant for a second than a lifetime,” he said. “So, if you don’t like what someone said, pull them aside. Don’t be okay with keeping a cycle. Address ignorance when it arises instead of pushing it down … You have to be uncomfortable. If you aren’t, then things aren’t going anywhere.”

In a small group discussion on creating social change, participants focusing on political parties agreed that assuming the identity of a person based off of political affiliations or beliefs is major roadblock to discourse.

“Talking about politics is toxic and it shouldn’t be,” one student said.

In the “Closing the Chasm: Redefining Divides in the Black Community” session, conversations on skin tone, hair texture and type, diversity and opportunity within universities, and social movements led to one participant’s call to action: “Approach ignorant people with love for yourself, your people and your culture. Yelling and anger doesn’t continue the conversation.”

This theme of choosing to continue a dialogue across difference culminated in keynote speaker Jenny Lorenzo’s speech.

Jenny Lorenzo addresses the Multicultural Leadership Summit in Saturday's keynote
address, speaking on what it means to"live in the hyphen" and the importance of telling our
own stories. Photo/ Rachel Mulcahy

Lorenzo, an actor and producer known for creating Latinx-focused content for Buzzfeed and Mitú, discussed the hardships of working in an industry catered to racial, gender, and ethnic stereotypes and her experience with what she called “living in the hyphen.”

“Living in the hyphen for me,” Lorenzo said, “is that little space between Cuban and American...and for women, people of color, and for those of us who live in the hypen, the key is not to fit into someone else’s box but to make your own.”

Lorenzo talked about the freeing experience of creating content that showcases a more authentic portrait of the Latinx community.

“I began writing roles for myself that people had not seen on screen...I no longer had to prove that my Latinx community was interesting or profitable,” she said. “I could finally share an experience that was not always accurately represented.”

Lorenzo encouraged attendees to take steps to create a more inclusive and accurately represented society.

“Finding your voice and sharing it with the world is important...To be successful in creating diversity and inclusion we have to demand to be seen on our own terms,” she said. “We can’t be afraid to create our open path.”

—Talise Burton