This year’s Professional Staff Organization forum was centered around building and embracing diversity, equity and inclusion on campus through policies, procedures and budgets.

Last week over 350 students from across all three UW campuses gathered together via Zoom with the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee to highlight the challenges faced by students of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. 

The hour-long event consisted of several discussions related to discrimination in higher education. It started with Professional Staff Organization members discussing how they’ve worked on alleviating the inequities faced today by students and faculty alike. 

PSO board member and DEI Committee Chair Deci Evans discussed specific actions taken, such as creating an anti-racism group, a diversity book club and the diversity council website.

“One of the things our department has done is that we have created an anti-racism group and the mission of that group is to brainstorm ideas and pathways for education awareness and actions and to create an anti-racist work environment,” Evans said.

Evans explained that the diversity council website would help outreach and recruitment for underrepresented minority residents and faculty. It will provide specific tools, hiring practices and procedures to offer to staff. A DEI staff training program is also in the works.

Ebonee Anderson, a Diversity Recruiter at UW Human Resources, explained that a primary focus for UW HR at the moment is examining current policies and practices.

“One of the things we understand about HR is that we help set the standards,” Anderson said. “So we should model the practices, the procedures, and the culture that we want to see across the university.”

She then talked about helping set a foundation for a more inclusive campus by establishing a transparency standard. They’ve recently published workforce data, which Anderson says is the first step to creating an inclusive campus culture.

“When it comes to increasing diversity, we first have to understand who’s here and how do we continue to create environments and cultures that are going to attract diversity and help retain and thrive diversity,” she said. “We have a lot of work to do in terms of looking at the system … it needs to be revisited and revamped to better serve the diverse communities that are on campus.”

She then passed the discussion to Mariasol Hill, a Global Intern Program Manager at Microsoft.

As someone who sits on the Global Diversity and Inclusion committee, Hill said she had a first-hand account in seeing the array of experiences faced by students once they leave an academic setting. She went on to explain how tech intersects with diversity and inclusion and harbors a space where workers can learn from each other.

“We’re working with students who are forming their own identities and sort of focusing on what DEI means to them and what it means in a corporate setting,” Hill said. “That population is such an important part of our community for us to implement cultural change through.”

Board Chair for Sustainable Seattle, Jamilah Williams, expressed her journey into DEI work as a Black woman and the work she’s done to make the journey less difficult for others.

“I feel like I came to DEI work kind of just by existing as a Black woman, and especially as a Black woman in a non-profit space,” Williams said. 

She further explained that her work on committees, putting together plans and strategies, and pushing leadership to take action in meaningful ways allowed her to get involved on a systemic level. 

After covering these topics, the event shifted into a Q&A session consisting of discussions about what they define as culture and how they utilize their budget to achieve their goals.

Hill spoke of her work at Microsoft and how the quick cultural change in leadership inspired her to keep on working there.

“Speaking from my experience at Microsoft, I think that culture is really defined by the values that are espoused by the people there and are working there and are contributing to the culture,” Hill said. 

“It’s no secret that [Satya Nadella] who is our CEO, in the 5-6 years he’s been here has really led cultural transformation for Microsoft,” Hill said. “So that was one of the things that drove me there, just the quickness that was able to happen because if that can happen so quickly, there’s a lot of things that can happen quickly.”

Wrapping things up, members of the PSO spoke of their respective budgets and how funds could best be utilized to support the growing number of racial equity programs and initiatives. They gave advice to those who wish to support them.

“Looking at what other groups are doing on campus and looking at how you can support them fiscally is a great way to [help],” Hill said. “A lot of time with our budgets if you don’t use the money you end up losing it and there’s ways to invest in your own community in programs that you’re not personally responsible for and you can be helpful in that way.”

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