Naugatuck Valley Community College, in collaboration with the NVCC Foundation, hosted a college-wide, virtual Diversity, Equity and Inclusion workshop led by Amer F. Ahmed, Ed.D. As Interim CEO Lisa Dresdner, Ph.D., explains, “the workshop builds on NVCC's efforts to work together toward inclusive and equitable practices. Through these kinds of opportunities, we strive to meet our goals to close the equity gap and create a safe, inviting environment for all to engage in learning and where all feel they belong.”
Dr. Ahmed is the Founder and CEO of AFA Diversity Consulting, LLC, a consulting practice dedicated to enhancing the development of organizations through efforts around leadership, professional development, assessment, and strategic change. In addition to his consulting work, Dr. Ahmed currently serves as Executive Director of Equity and Inclusivity and Co-Chief Diversity Officer at Dickinson College and is a member of SpeakOut: Institute for Democratic Education.
A skillful and empathetic leader, Ahmed interweaves diversity, equity, and inclusion with intercultural frameworks. He regularly speaks and consults with institutions across the country on social justice, higher education, and interfaith issues. Born and raised in Ohio to Indian Muslim immigrants, his life experiences, deep theoretical analyses, and practical applications inspire him to guide institutions, leadership, and workplaces in the process of developing transformative change. Given the challenges that today’s complex world presents in higher education, the workshop was designed to engage faculty and staff in deeper understandings of core competencies to create inclusive learning spaces in and out of the classroom and to strengthen collaborative approaches to practical applications of these core competencies.
Dr. Ahmed led participants through a series of concepts designed to build empathy and awareness by elevating the golden rule of “do unto other as you would have them do unto you” to what he refers to as the “platinum rule” of “do unto others as they would do/have done unto themselves.” He emphasized that the ability to empathize with others is a core competency in developing self-awareness and cultivating our campus culture.
Kathy Taylor, J.D., Professor of Legal Studies, Co-Chair, Center for Racial Dialogue and Communal Transformation, and Co-Sponsor, Social Justice Series, summarized the take-aways and next steps. “Dr. Amer Ahmed brilliantly reminded us that every system is designed to get the results it gets. When thinking about inequity and disparate outcomes within higher education, we have much work to do. The professional development challenged us to reflect upon our tolerance for ambiguity, our tendency to assign judgment, and how aspects of our identity shapes and informs our interactions with students and colleagues alike. He reminded us that we must move beyond denial, defense, and minimization to cultivate classrooms that are more equitable, welcoming, and inclusive. We, as faculty, have an awesome responsibility to our students and increasing our self-awareness is an important first step. This is a long journey and I look forward to NVCC articulating purposeful and intentional next steps.”
Leaders of NVCC’s Center for Racial Dialogue & Communal Transformation, Antonio Santiago, Dean of Danbury Campus and Joseph Faryniarz, Ed.D., Professor of Biological Sciences also commented on the workshop, noting the importance of “faculty and staff at NVCC to learn more about diversity, equity, and inclusion because it directly affects the daily lives of our diverse student body that is made up of a significant percentage of minorities and English Language Learners.” Dr. Faryniarz points to an article that highlights the impact of these percentages to the STEM fields in particular: “Nationally, ‘English Learners are underrepresented in STEM fields in college as well as the workforce. These lower participation rates are made more troublesome by the ever-increasing demand for workers and professionals in STEM fields.’” (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, 2018). Dean Santiago also observed that the “workshop helped us to realize and acknowledge ‘the elephant in the room.’ Change is not going to happen overnight; we need to continue to grapple with these situations and problems further in valuing diversity to provide better opportunities for students and to build a stronger institution.”
Building on the consensus regarding the value of this workshop, Sohair Omar, Interim Director of Institutional Research, noted, “The DEI workshop made us aware that we, as an institution, are at the ethnorelative stages of acceptance or adaption and that we need to continue to deepen and integrate our collective efforts with respect to diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
This workshop, Dr. Dresdner notes, contributes to the ongoing efforts at NVCC of the Center for Racial Dialogue and Communal Transformation and the Social Justice Series to build awareness of the importance of learning together about diversity and inclusion and, significantly, taking action to close the equity gap. Commenting on the Foundation’s support of the workshop, Angela Chapman, Associate Dean of Development, states, “The DEI workshop was essential and beneficial to making diversity, equity, and inclusion a core piece of our work towards a more just and equitable institution for the success of our students. The workshop helped to raise awareness of cultural intelligence, empathy and perspective, unconscious bias, and inclusive thinking and actions. The support of the NVCC Foundation clearly demonstrates their commitment and action to diversity and inclusion and we are truly grateful for their contributions.”