University collaborates on equity symposium

McKenna Scherer, editor-in-chief

Winona State University’s Office of Equity and Inclusive Excellence, Alumni Engagement and Career Services are collaborating on an upcoming event that will aim to open up conversation with students around equity and inclusivity in the workplace.

The event, titled the Equity in the Workplace Symposium, will be held via Zoom on Wednesday, Feb. 17. in the form of two separate discussions; One discussion will be from 5:15 to 6:15 p.m. and the other will follow shortly after from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.

DeAnna Goddard, associate director of Career Services and one of the event’s organizers, said although the university has had dialogue centered around equity and inclusion related to current students and campus life, the upcoming symposium will have a different goal.

Goddard expressed how students getting ready to graduate may be focused on finding a job right out of school but may not realize the importance of finding a workplace where equity and inclusivity is made a priority.

“There’s lots of conversations about [equity and inclusion] at the university, but we started to think about when our students graduate and they go out into the workplace, have we prepared them so they feel empowered? Are they able to identify the places that really are going to be supportive of them? Are they familiar with all of the acts, policies, regulations, laws around discrimination?”

Questions like Goddard’s were part of the decision to bring in a panel of professionals and experts to lead the first discussion of the event.

The panel will feature Dawn Kirchner, a diversity recruitment specialist at Mayo Clinic-Rochester; Dr. Becky Evan, an assistant management professor at Metropolitan State University; and Jerad Green, a diversity, equity and inclusion specialist at the Hennepin County District Court.

“We realized we need to bring in some experts to have this conversation, just to start it,” Goddard said. “I want students to know [the importance of equity and inclusivity] ahead of time.”

Each panelist was chosen specifically to represent different industries’ work with equity and inclusivity, including in education, corporate, government and non-profit organizations.

Goddard said Kirshner works closely with creating accommodations for those with disabilities while Evan is currently doing research around race relations. Green is pursuing his doctoral degree in Educational Leadership and is also a Winona State alum.

Evan said she said “yes” to participating in the event because she believes it is important for everyone to be informed about work environments prior to applying for and accepting a job.

“Our workplaces should be an environment that is conducive for us to grow individually, positively contribute and bring the best version of ourselves,” Evan said. “I do believe inclusivity is important and vital for a strong workplace culture.”

Evan also said she believes most workplaces would agree inclusivity is important because it is good for business, among other things, since research has found having diversity among employees often leads to better product and profit for organizations.

“As new hires at organizations, at times it can feel like we do not have a say in the culture, but the reality is that an organization is relying on the innovative ideas, excitement and energy of new employees to propel their brand,” Evan said.

The second session of the symposium will have a keynote speaker, who is also a Winona State alum.

The keynote speaker, Reggie Martin, graduated from Winona State in 1997 and currently works at The Venetian Macau, a luxury hotel and casino resort in China, as the head of VIP and celebrity relations.

Charlie Opatz, an academic advisor and career counselor at Winona State and fellow event organizer, said Martin is a dynamic speaker with stories students will want to hear.

“I’m pretty sure he’s not going to just show a PowerPoint. He speaks off-the-cuff and I think students will be engaged,” Opatz said.

Opatz described Macau as “kind of the Vegas of China”.

Goddard also spoke highly of Martin’s dynamic public speaking and the stories he will be able to share with Winona State’s students.

“I’ve heard that you won’t even believe some of [Martin’s] stories,” Goddard said.

However, selecting Martin for to be part of the upcoming symposium was a thought-out decision beyond his notable charisma.

“The first session we’re going to talk about regulations, office dynamics, best practices in the work environment and it’s going to have a little bit more of a formal feel to it,” Goddard said. “But the second session is really, Winona State alum to Winona State students.”

Goddard explained how those involved in planning the symposium wanted to have a featured alum who truly knew the “ins and outs of workplace culture” as well as an understanding of the importance of advocacy.

“The second session is a “here’s my story” and “here are my experiences,” and really sharing at a much more intimate level,” Goddard said.

Other Winona State faculty members involved in the symposium’s planning and organization include Jonathan Locust, associate director of the equity and inclusion office, as well as Tracy Hale, director of alumni engagement.

Goddard said the planning for the event was “completely a group effort” and that each member had unique perspectives and resources to bring to the table.

“I’m so proud of this,” Goddard said. “I can’t stress enough how proud I am of these two sessions, because we really did work well as a team.”

Students are invited to submit questions prior to the event for a Q&A session that will be happening during the symposium. The questions will be shared anonymously.

The symposium’s two discussion hours will be recorded and made available to Winona State faculty and students with access to Handshake accounts. The recordings may also be requested for use in the classroom, or by alumni and students, according to Goddard.