Three Rutgers Today staffers recently attended the Tyler Clementi Center's first Inclusion Summit, organized to bring members of the Rutgers Community together to explore issues of diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility.
Panels explored issues of race in America, neurodiversity, indigenous history and culture and understanding culturally significant holidays.
“In my experience, most folks want to be inclusive, but aren't always sure how to build new habits," said Crystal Bedley, director of the Tyler Clementi Center for Diversity Education and Bias Prevention. “The Inclusion Summit provided one model by being intentional about accessibility, providing ground rules for engagement and sharing pronouns. I wanted people to see that by connecting across silos, transformative change is possible."
Here are some takeaways from the event.
Larry McAllister II
Assistant director, social media strategy and strategic digital promotions
As we think about supporting neurodiverse individuals in their work and education, we can always do more.
While we presently have over 30 students enrolled in the College Support Program, part of the Rutgers Center for Adult Autism Services (RCAAS), the program currently does not have funding to expand support beyond students enrolled at Rutgers-New Brunswick. It is likely that the number of students on the autism spectrum across the university is considerably larger. Without the necessary demographic data, the picture of the needs of our neurodiverse students isn’t as clear as it could be.
The lack of information, training and funding are challenges we must overcome. There currently are no institutional training opportunities for faculty and staff focused on serving our neurodiverse students.
The Center for Adult Autism Services, part of the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology, is doing impressive work to fill some of those gaps by providing neurodiverse adults with the skills and opportunities to lead independent and fulfilling lives; in fact, 100 percent of Supporting Community Access through Leisure and Employment (SCALE) program participants are employed. To help fund these services, the center has been able to cultivate 670 individual donors; however, more funding is needed to make their valuable services available to more in need.
To raise awareness about neurodiversity, on Monday, Oct. 17, the Center for Adult Autism Services will host an exclusive screening of the film In A Different Key at The Yard on the College Avenue Campus, an event that is being sponsored by RISE at Warren, an innovative residential project being designed for neurodiverse people. The award-winning film, co-directed by Caren Zucker and John Donvan, chronicles the history of autism told from the perspectives of individuals and families – including Donald Triplett, the first person diagnosed with autism in 1941. In addition to the screening, the filmmakers will join RCAAS executive director Christopher Manente and RCAAS relationship coach Amy Gravino to discuss how the film's messages can help address opportunities and challenges within the Rutgers community.
Public relations specialist
Learning that the percentage of indigenous students at Rutgers is significantly small, at less than 1 percent, was surprising. I also learned that the broader local community has larger parentage of indigenous people, so building trust in those communities to help increase student numbers is a major way to increase representation in this regard.
Rutgers Gardens has begun collaborating with indigenous communities in New Jersey to explore installing native plants of cultural significance in the gardens. This is a great opportunity for anyone who is looking to learn more about native plants and their connection to the local indigenous communities. As the program seeks to increase partnerships with local indigenous communities, as well as to serve as a tool to potentially recruit more indigenous students and practitioners to the university, indigenous community members interested in collaborating on this new project are invited to contact the Rutgers Gardens office for more information.
Social media content producer
What I took away from the Inclusion Summit is that we should expect more from white allies. When we talked about what could be done better by white counterparts, the first example was recognizing Juneteenth. It's not just another "day off" -- we can actually do small things such as finding a Black-owned business to support that day.
Allyship is understanding that there is not a complexion requirement: It’s a matter of understanding and recognizing that Juneteenth is an American holiday. It is expecting to use your allyship as a bridge so that people can cross it with you. Although it takes time, you must put forth consistent effort. This effort consists of being comfortable with being vulnerable in moments of learning. Your curiosity must be satiated. It is then that you can expect flowers to grow from those initial seeds you planted.