Together We Rise conference to promote diversity, inclusion

Abby Carpenter, Staff Reporter

Eastern’s Making Excellence Inclusive is prepared to host their second annual Together We Rise Conference in the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union on Friday. Tuesday is the deadline to register.

Making Excellence Inclusive is a body comprised of faculty, staff, administrators and a few students who promote diversity, equity, inclusion and open-mindedness on campus.

Catherine Polydore, the coordinator of EIU Emerging Leaders as well as the Chair of MEI, said this conference has many benefits.

“Together We Rise is important for others to be aware of the different ways that people in their practice can create equity for students,” Polydore said. “By that we mean in the classroom, in campus offices, campus events and just being super aware in the ways in which historically higher education has been very exclusive, especially towards individuals from traditionally underrepresented groups.”

This is a free conference sponsored by the provost office, the president’s office, faculty development and innovation center and a consumer grant.

The conference consists of a breakfast/lunch, a welcome and keynote speaker, and then three different break-out sessions with a variety of speakers who are experts on their topics.

Polydore said speakers were chosen last year.

“In the spring semester a proposal was sent out to anyone interested with an area of expertise that was appropriate to the conference, and they submitted a small summary,” Polydore said. “From that, we selected the individuals and topics that we felt would be good for the conference. The main theme is the idea of inclusion.”

One of the speakers is Jessica Ward, who is the assistant director for the Office of Student Standards and the Coordinator for Gender & Sexual Diversity.

She will be speaking with Ben Wilburn, a former student at EIU who works at SACIS as the director of Advocacy.

Together they are speaking about Transforming Education, the importance of transgender education at higher education.

Ward said she hopes her speech will help people better understand transgender students.

“I really want to give a foundation of the importance and what exactly being transgender means, because a lot of people don’t even understand that,” Ward said. “It’s also giving some takeaways like these are some things you can do for better practice, to understand things better and essentially provide a better environment for our students in and outside the classroom.”

Another speaker at the “Together We Rise” conference is Asmita Saha, who will speak about the International Panther Voice and Creating Inclusive Spaces for International Students.

Saha is studying to obtain her graduate degree in clinical psychology and is from India. She said she wants to talk about what she has been through when she transitioned to Eastern.

“I just want to share my experience and how I felt, so people can be prepared and can know what to expect,” Saha said. “I came here alone and had no one to talk to in the first place, so I don’t want students to feel left out when they come.”

She said she wants to be there for other international students who find themselves in similar, unfamiliar situations as she faced when first coming to EIU.

The deadline to register for this event is Tuesday, and registration forms can be found on the Eastern website.

Abby Carpenter can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected]