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Black History Month Keynote: Dr. Damon Williams Brings Inclusive Excellence Tour to DSU

by Janelle Hill Feb 26, 2021

How far has DeSales come on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), and where does the campus community go from here? 

That was just one of the powerful questions Dr. Damon Williams, a nationally acclaimed DEI scholar, posed during a candid and interactive campus-wide conversation.

More than 140 students, faculty, and staff tuned in virtually to take part in Williams’ Inclusive Excellence Tour—the keynote event of DeSales’ Black History Month celebration. Williams kicked things off by discussing the importance of creating shared spaces for engagement.  

“This work of moving from awareness to action is not about what we say, it’s more about what we do as active listeners as we try to understand others and meet them where they are. Too often we are canceling voices versus listening to voices. Too often we are stymying conversation versus activating dialogue. Too much we are consumed with our own pain versus finding empathy for the pain and the needs of others.” 

 Dr. Damon Williams

Throughout the 90-minute conversation, Williams asked the audience to take part in an interactive poll. He first asked participants to describe their current mood, in one or two words, as they continue to manage the COVID-19 pandemic and elevated conversations of race relations. A range of responses flooded the screen, from hopeful and optimistic to overwhelmed and discouraged.

Next, Williams asked the audience to describe where DeSales is on its institutional journey of diversity, equity, and inclusion and anti-racism. Nearly 75 percent of respondents believe that the University has made important steps and is starting to see change and energy moving forward. 

“One of the things I think is so important when we think about diversity, equity, and inclusion is recognizing that we have to work from what’s working, we have to build from assets,” Williams said. “We always have to confront the brutal facts of the challenge and what’s not going well. But I think it’s also important to build from a sense of assets and build from a sense of energy—that there’s a conversation that’s elevating, a conversation that’s becoming more meaningful.” 

Williams also sounded the call for innovation and challenged the audience to take six steps when dealing with issues of DEI—ask hard questions, find solutions across boundaries, engage other innovators, experiment with new ideas, take ideas to scale, and lead with courage. 

He then addressed what he calls one of the most significant efforts we can put into place—becoming an ally. In his words, allies have open hearts and open minds, they learn about others, and support people who are different. The first tip to becoming an ally—be open to evolving your perspective.

“These issues are more important and are becoming more imminent now as we have gone through this experience of the summer of Black Lives Matter and all the ripple effects from that very historic movement,” Williams said. “There’s a readiness here for us to continue moving forward.” 

In addition to Williams’ campus-wide lecture, DeSales has hosted a number of events honoring Black History Month, including an interfaith discussion on Dr. King’s dream and a night of spoken word poetry and empowerment.