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Allen explains why Difference Matters at Common READ

Reading group brainstorms ways to enhance diversity and foster culture of inclusion

Brenda Allen, associate vice chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion at CU Denver, discusses her book at Common READ

By Chris Casey | University Communications

AURORA, Colo. - While she was billed as keynote speaker to close the summer Common Community READ program, Brenda J. Allen, Ph.D., favored a "group keynote" and quickly sparked lively discussion on why difference matters.

Allen, associate vice chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus, is skilled at turning lecture rooms into interactive forums. So the 25 people at Thursday's discussion about the summer READ book, Allen's "Difference Matters," spent the hour chatting about personal experience and brainstorming ways to advance the university's goal of enhancing diversity and fostering a culture of inclusion.

"In order for us to do the work well, that is to say to go back to that university priority, we've got to begin with ourselves, looking at our own experiences," Allen said to the group, which included Chancellor Don Elliman and Provost Rod Nairn. "I'm hoping to have more and more opportunities for us to do that with each other in what feels like a safe climate and culture."

Allen summarized the key points of her book, which analyzes the six social identity categories -- gender, race, social class, sexuality and ability -- and how communication establishes and enacts identity and power dynamics. She asked READ participants to, in small groups, share examples of how difference mattered and social identity played out in their own lives.

Some talked about feeling the need to suppress part of who they are in various situations, and others talked of being stereotyped or misidentified in regard to ethnicity. Donna Parrish, director of diversity and inclusion in the Department of Pediatrics in the School of Medicine, explained how she's learned the skill of "respectful inquiry" in her 20 years of working in the child welfare system.

"I had to figure out a way for case workers to acquire the demographic information that they wanted, and you can do that in a respectful way," she said. "Part of our work and part of our journey in the state of Colorado has been how do we arm caseworkers with the tools and the knowledge as to why we need the information."

Allen spoke about the importance of each person adding to their own difference matters tool boxes. She suggested these resources:

For more information about her book "Difference Matters," go to the website:

Dominic Martinez, director for the Anschutz Medical Campus Office of Diversity and Inclusion, introduced Thursday's session in the Nighthorse Campbell Building. He credited Shawna McMahon, Ph.D., Department of Bioengineering, for coming up with the idea of the Common Community READ (research, education, activism and diversity) a couple years ago. "From there we've read some really great books and have had some great discussions between the downtown campus, Children's Hospital Colorado, University of Colorado Hospital and the Anschutz Medical Campus," he said.

Allen concluded the discussion about her book by asking readers to brainstorm "actionable items" related to enhancing diversity and fostering inclusion. Ideas included: multicultural festivals, mentoring programs, professional management programs, difference matters modules within the curriculum, family friendly policies for faculty and staff, and training on how to reduce microaggression.

(Photo: Brenda J. Allen, associate vice chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion, discusses her book, "Difference Matters," at the Common Community READ session Aug. 8 at the Anschutz Medical Campus.)




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