Since Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Antonio Farias joined CU Denver in March, he’s been on a continuous listening tour with a wide array of students, faculty, staff, and community members. He’s also revamping his department, helping to shape the Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) and Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving (AANAPISI) strategy, and putting a strong focus on the role the university’s affinity groups play in uplifting and centering key voices and wisdom necessary in creating a true sense of belonging for all. CU Denver News sat down with Farias to hear an update on his efforts related to the university’s affinity groups, particularly the LGBTQIA+ community as June is Pride Month.
Given that June is Pride Month, why do you think it’s important to have different months honoring affinity groups?
It’s important to not forgot that Pride Month originated from the Stonewall Inn uprising in 1969, given the over-policing of individual identity and agency is a recurring historical reality. Like all affinity month commemorations, Pride Month must serve as both a remembrance of the struggle for fundamental human rights and dignity, as well as a much-needed reminder that for us as an educational workplace, we must continuously revisit our policies, practices, and procedures when it comes to the lived experience of our faculty, staff, and students to make the necessary corrections and continue to be vigilant of the creeping inequality that is in the groundwater of our society.
You mentioned revisiting our policies and procedures. Can you provide a few examples?
What I’m doing over the summer is mapping out the terrain of where we are in terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) across the entire campus. I’ve met with the LGBTQIA+ faculty affinity group and one concern they shared was that the Women and Gender Center, which is part of the Center for Identity and Inclusion, should do more to support our LGBTQIA+ community. I’m taking that to heart.
Mission clarity is key and so as I hire new staff and we go through the development of our strategy and ethos, what will be evident is that we are an intersectional, welcoming office designed to holistically support our students. If you show up as LGBTQIA+, biracial, first-gen, a veteran, neurodiverse, and low-income, you will find yourself in a welcoming community that will embrace and support you in your educational journey.
I’m also inviting affinity group leaders across campus to be members of a joint council that will meet on a monthly basis. As a collective, we can determine where we have shared commonalities in terms of the good things that are happening and where we must improve, both in the classroom and workplace. It’s powerful because of the potential to cross-pollinate effective practices, share resources, create a community of supportive allies and overall create agency in the change process as we embrace the concept of becoming an equity-
What is something you’d like to share with our affinity groups about the direction the university is headed?
Particularly as we’re in the midst of Pride Month, our LGBTQIA+ community members must feel they are supported and can thrive in their education journey and in the workplace. This visceral sense of belonging applies to all of our populations that have been historically marginalized in our society.
We went through this with the #metoo movement and finally got it in our heads that sexual harassment is pervasive. It is the same with Black Lives Matter—anti-Black racism is real. It’s been real for 400+ years. We need to stop asking for more data. It’s real. It’s a lived experience. And we must go from talking about it to acting. And then once we start acting, we need to measure whether our actions have a positive outcome, thereby embracing a culture of continuous improvement and expanding capacity for increased positive change.
To do that, we need to make sure that our senior leaders, deans, managers, supervisors, department heads, and everyone across campus, plays a role in this process of assessing the areas we have control over and asking ourselves if the outcomes of our actions, our policies, and our procedures, align with our organization values. We will educate our community and empower them with the tools necessary to make equity and belonging an everyday practice.