Claude Steele, a psychologist known for his work on stereotype and social identity threat, gave a keynote address Tuesday afternoon for the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion’s diversity summit. The weeklong summit, marking a year since the five-year Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan was launched, first kicked off on Monday with a debrief of the results of its sample climate survey. Steele spoke to over 100 faculty and staff, though not many students were present.
Steele, professor emeritus of psychology at Stanford University, has previously held positions at the University of Michigan and University of California, Berkeley. His address focused on the topic of how to achieve a successful and diverse community
Before the event, assistant Vice Provost Katrina Wade-Golden told The Daily believed Steele’s address would contribute to the values of the summit.
“(His address) points up to what our ultimate goal is for the summit,” Wade-Golden said. “That all can contribute, thrive and grow. That’s the foundation not only for the summit but for the DEI initiative as a whole.”
Robert Sellers, vice provost for equity and inclusion and chief diversity officer, introduced Steele and addressed the importance of moving forward in today’s society.
“We are no longer standing still,” he said. “We are moving forward. We are moving forward even in the face of really really troubling and disturbing times. We are moving forward in a period of time which there is probably greater divisiveness than many of us have seen, and this divisiveness clearly is much broader than our community and often originates off campus, but like anything, has an impact on our campus.”
Steele echoed Sellers on the changing sociopolitical milieu in America.
“In a way of background, we are in the middle of a real demographic shift in the population of the United States,” Steele said. “And as a society it brings challenges, and it raises the question of why it’s so important to achieve a racially diverse community.”
Steele also noted the issues of prejudice and stereotypes were not just restricted to race, but to gender as well, noting the example of Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman on the U.S. Supreme Court bench.
Steele welcomed uncomfortable feelings as signs of breaking the boundaries of a homogeneous educational community.
“We have to recognize that the sense of discomfort isn’t something that’s temporary,” he said. “It’s a feature of trying to bring together a diverse community. … When you have a very diverse population with people coming from a lot of different histories, you realize that the way we used to educate students might not transfer to this new population.”
Steele’s most salient piece of advice centered around building relationships between social groups.
“At the heart of it all is trust,” he said. “It’s very hard to trust across lines. If I’m overstating, I might say that I think it’s much more important for institutions to focus on building that trust than to focus entirely on bias. There needs to be an ongoing effort to build trust within our community.”