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Your Story, My Story: Hundreds Gather For Diversity And Inclusion Workshops

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A co-worker feels excluded because he’s nearing retirement. A white colleague with a biracial family is offended by an ethnic joke. A conservative employee senses her opinions aren’t respected. A gay staff member doesn’t feel comfortable enough to share how she and her wife spent their weekend.

About 500 Lehigh staff, faculty, students, senior leadership and trustees listened attentively recently as the actors of the Cornell Interactive Theatre Ensemble (CITE) shared these and other stories of real people through their own words. The monologues were followed by a conversation led by CITE Consultant and Facilitator Vivian Relta.  

CITE Director Dane Cruz, who wrote the piece entitled “Your Story, My Story,” said it’s a departure from CITE’s previous presentations.  “It’s our first monologue piece,” he said. “We drew on things we’ve been doing for years, but gave the characters singular voices and allowed them to tell their whole story. We designed this piece specifically because people were telling us at Cornell that they didn’t see themselves as part of the diversity story. We wanted to help them see diversity is about all of us and all of our stories.”

Members of the Cornell Interactive Theatre Ensemble enjoyed the view from the Tower Room in Iaccoca Hall. Left to right: Erica Steinhagen, Jum Warritay, Dane Cruz, Vivian ReltaAfter the actors brought six characters to life, it was Vivian’s job to start a discussion among the workshop participants. It can be uncomfortably quiet at first.

“The early tension is predictable, I’m actually pretty comfortable with it,” Vivian said. “People don’t know what to expect from me. So, I will wait until the first person speaks up and then offer praise and love for those first responses. After maybe 10 minutes, everyone is reaching for the microphone. My job is to create the feeling of safety to make that happen.”

A Grassroots Committee

The idea to bring CITE to Lehigh for workshops came out of an ad hoc committee on diversity and inclusion formed in the Finance and Administration stem. Its members include Kathy Calabrese, Walt Conway, Stacey Eversley, Mike King, Delicia Nahman and Debbie Watlington. Kathy, Director of the Lehigh Child Care Center, says everyone is deeply committed.  “We’re a small grassroots group, but we didn’t want to just sit and talk about these issues,” she said. “Mike King especially pointed out that it was important to do something specific, to be action-oriented.”

The original idea was to bring CITE in to work with Finance and Administration. Soon, however, enthusiasm built, and Henry Odi, Vice President of Academic Diversity, suggested offering the workshops to the whole campus. Patricia Johnson, Vice President of Finance and Administration, also supported the proposal.

“Henry’s guidance and mentoring of our committee has been extremely helpful,” Kathy noted. Pat Mann’s expertise and knowledge in planning and executing events helped make the sessions successful. And Robin Dougherty was a very valuable part of the process.”

With an invitation from Board Chair Brad Eric Scheler, Interim President Kevin Clayton, Provost Patrick Farrell, and Patricia Johnson, all of whom attended one of the six workshops, Kathy said the response was very strong.

“There was a great blend of faculty, staff, senior leadership and trustees,” she said. “It raised awareness. And everyone was able to connect or empathize with one of the stories that were shared. We talked about more than culture and race – we talked about everyone feeling comfortable to be themselves in the workplace.”

Continuing The Journey

CITE Coordinator and Actor Jum Warritay believes Lehigh is on the right path, but says CITE’s workshops are just one part of the process. “I think Lehigh is showing tremendous commitment to finding the next steps that it needs,” she said. “You are asking the right questions. But there are no easy answers. We (CITE) don’t come with a magic sack of solutions.”

Kathy and her committee were pleased with the level of registration and participation.  “It made me feel really good about what we are doing at Lehigh,” she reflected. “I think it’s important that we keep this journey moving forward. We may be taking little steps, but it’s a collaborative effort and we all are moving forward together.”

CITE Returns in November

CITE is coming back November 12, 13, and 14 for staff and faculty, and December 1 and 2 for students. People who were unable to attend in September will receive an email invitation.

Hear more from the Cornell Interactive Theatre Ensemble About Their Visit to Lehigh.

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