Keynote speaker Tim Wise discussed creating change and providing equality for marginalized communities during Rowan's first annual DEI summit. - Photo via Pixabay.com

Rowan University’s Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion held its first annual summit on March 23 in a virtual format. This year’s theme was “More Than a Hashtag” and focused on discussing what can be done to create a more inclusive environment on campus.

Guest speakers and student panelists shared the different ways that universities and people alike can work together to create change and stop hate. These presentations were also a way for others to learn more about the challenges members of marginalized communities face, such as systemic racism and the impact of dealing with COVID-19.

The event featured keynote speaker Tim Wise, a well known anti-racist writer and educator in the U.S. For the past 25 years, he has traveled across the country to speak to different audiences, including college students, academic conferences and community groups. Not only has he contributed to over 25 books, but he is an author himself and recently released his book “Dispatches from the Race War.” Wise’s essays have appeared in Huffington Post, The Root, Black Commentator, BK Nation and Z Magazine.

Wise noted that the brutal murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery have impacted the lives of many who are outraged and hurt, and now we must work together, as a nation, to stop these despicable acts. Wise believes that the focus on police misconduct, and the disproportionate killings of people of color by law enforcement, is growing due to COVID-19.

“One of the reasons that we are as hyperfocused as we are in this moment on racial inequity and injustice, is precisely because of the conditions created by the pandemic,” Wise said. “For the last year, we have been operating in a much more remote way. We’re isolated; we’re not going about our daily routine. And, as a result of being in this relative lockdown mode, it allows people to hear some things – and see some things – that maybe, previously, they didn’t want to hear, or they couldn’t see.”

While many would attest that the pandemic has been a nightmare, Wise pointed out what America may have been missing.

“That’s the weird irony of this tragedy – of over half a million lives lost,” Wise said. “That it created the conditions that made it possible for some white folks to stop hitting the snooze button on the alarm clock, so to speak, that’s been going on for 400 years in this country – the alarm clock of racial injustice.”

Wise expressed concern that once we regain a new sense of normalcy, the outpouring of support for members of marginalized communities will fade away.

“How do you sustain that focus?” Wise said. “How do you sustain the commitment? How do you sustain the energy to racial justice and equity when the immediate crisis of COVID-19 passes?”

To create change and gain equality for members of marginalized communities, the necessary work must be done.

“If we’re talking about undoing systemic racism, a lot of that work is not going to be out in the streets. A lot of that work is not going to be about protesting and it’s not going to be the stuff that makes headlines,” Wise said. “It’s going to be the stuff that you do every day, in the institutional spaces where you operate.”

According to Wise, over 90% of the work that must be done is not work that will make the front page or the top news headlines across the country.

“It’s not going to make the nightly news, it’s not going to make social media and it’s not necessarily exciting, sexy and glamourous work. But, I’ll tell you what, that’s the important, long-term and transformational work,” Wise said.

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