Sep 22, 2016 | Atlanta, GA
Last week, I had the pleasure to offer welcome remarks at our Eighth Annual Diversity Symposium. The symposium was a fantastic event filled with guest speakers and panelists, Georgia Tech faculty members, staff, and students, and featured a wonderful keynote address from my longtime friend and colleague Marcia McNutt, president of the National Academy of Sciences.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of Georgia Tech’s first two female graduates. In 1956, Diane Michel and Shirley Clements Mewborn received their degrees, just four years after the regents voted to admit women on a full-time basis to Georgia Tech. In honor of that milestone, this year’s Diversity Symposium theme was “Celebrating Women at Georgia Tech,” covering topics from gender equality and inclusion on our campus to gender issues worldwide, and women in STEM and industry best practices to promote gender equity. In light of this year's theme, Institute Diversity also created the Gender Equity Champion Awards to recognize members of the faculty, staff, and student body, and a unit for significantly demonstrating gender diversity, equity, and inclusion within the Georgia Tech community.
In her keynote address, McNutt talked about what she called “steps and missteps.” Her candid recollection of her own very accomplished career included times when she says she “got it right” and also times when she admits she “got it wrong.”
McNutt’s message was very personal and powerful, but also very applicable to our lives as individuals and our collective experience as a community here at Georgia Tech. The power in missteps is embodied in the lessons we learn and the actions we take next. That’s true for each of us in our personal lives with friends and family, and in our professional lives with our co-workers, supervisors, and others. As a campus community, we must also recognize when we get it right and when there are opportunities to do better, and be better.
That self-awareness and community consciousness is how we change our own biases and how we impact our campus culture and the world in meaningful ways. I am encouraged by two new initiatives developed during the past year that can help us as an institution learn from past missteps, intentional or not, and put action steps into place to become a different Georgia Tech.
Last year, two important Institute-wide initiatives took shape to address the black student experience and issues of gender equity on campus. In the time since, important and at times uncomfortable discussions have taken place, and as a result we recently launched action plans for 11 recommendations of the Black Student Experience Task Force, and another 11 recommendations for Gender Equity Initiatives.
As a campus of 33,000, we must be responsive, open, and direct about issues of inclusivity, discrimination, and inequity in all forms. We must as individuals, and as a whole community, make a stand against behaviors that are simply unacceptable, be they isolated or systemic. We must work hard, get uncomfortable, and develop real solutions to become the community we wish to be. That must be true in how we hire and promote our faculty and staff, how we develop student and professional leaders, and how we as a community listen and respond to each other. These discussions must and will continue.
- Rafael L. Bras