More than 200 attend WSU's first student-led diversity conference

When Ariel Seay-Howard, a Ph.D. student in communication and chair of the Communication Graduate Student Association, was invited to present her talk "Lynch in all its phases: a narrative critique" at the 2019 Communicating Diversity Conference at Texas A&M University in College Station, TX, it got her thinking.

Padgett and Seay
Padgett and Seay-Howard

"I was impressed that a predominantly white university found the need for such an important topic," Seay-Howard said. "I hadn't seen any real action like that being done at Wayne State University."

She decided to change that and, with a little help, planned WSU's first student-led diversity conference, held at the Student Center in February. The theme of the conference was "Voice, Identity and Inclusion." The two-day event saw more than 200 attendees, speakers, panelists and performers from WSU's campus and beyond.

It felt great to see so many people across disciplines come together to support her vision and make it a reality, Seay-Howard said.

Donyale Padgett, an associate professor in the Department of Communication and a community activist, kicked off the event with a warm welcome. "(The conference) is an extension of our efforts to celebrate the diversity of thought and practice that is widely embraced by many in our campus community," Padgett said.

Keon Pettiway, a rhetorical historian of race and visual culture and a mentor of Seay-Howard's from her time as a master's student at Eastern Michigan University, gave the keynote address. Pettiway has worked on digital humanities projects focused on civil rights public address. He believes that diversity and inclusion is an imperative, not an option, while recognizing that it can be elusive to achieve.

"In his keynote address, Pettiway talked about the public memory of Brown v. Board of Education and how it impacts how we're thinking about the integration of people of color into predominantly white universities today," Seay-Howard said.

With the current social and political climate, diversity is one of the many talked about issues in (and outside of) academia. Seay-Howard and other participants of the diversity conference hope the event will inspire others like it at WSU.

A version of this article originally appeared on CFPCA's website.

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