by Whitney Hopler, Communications Director
Hundreds of people with diverse roles in Mason’s community – students, parents, alumni, employees, university partners and more – gathered for the Diversity, Inclusion, and Well-Being Summit on April 13. They devoted the day to discussing how Mason can build an inclusive university for the world where everyone knows they matter and can thrive.
The three interrelated topics of diversity, inclusion, and well-being are central ideas to Mason’s vision and strategic plan, representing “the center of what George Mason University is,” said Mason President Dr. Angel Cabrera as he opened the summit. “I’m inspired and encouraged,” he added as he looked into the large crowd, “because this means that this whole idea is resonating widely and deeply across the entire university.”
Mason has established a solid foundation of diversity, inclusion, and well-being to build on for the future, said Eve Smith, a freshman who is majoring in Psychology and participating in the Mindful Living LLC, a residential community for students who want to build their college experience around well-being. “I feel very respected and appreciated and included on campus, and my friends do as well,” said Smith, but noted that she hopes everyone at Mason will keep learning more about diversity, inclusion, and well-being. “These are important issues,” she said.
“If you’re looking for diversity, it’s easy to see it at first at Mason. But it’s the subtle things in relationships that show challenges we need to overcome,” said Daniel Taggart, Director, Human Resources and Employee Relations, College of Science. Taggart said he sees those relationship challenges show up in his job, which sometimes includes helping employees resolve conflicts with colleagues. “I’m in a position with my job in HR at our college where I can call out bad behavior when I see it. Then I can talk with the people involved and help them learn different and better ways to approach the situation.”
Taggart said being part a traditional majority demographic group has shown him the need for learning more about what people in minority groups experience. “As a white man, I’m learning about white privilege and educating myself so I can educate others. I have a sense of responsibility to help other white men learn how to do things differently than from a traditional place of privilege.”
Michael Ghanem, an Arab American senior majoring in Business, said that even as a member of a minority group that is often misunderstood, he still sometimes catches himself with biases against others. “I sometimes find myself judging people before I get to know them, and I want to learn how to be more open,” he said.
Ghanem participated in the summit “to hear other people’s stories and to understand how they themselves value these things.” If people throughout Mason pay attention regularly to share and listen to each other’s stories, he said, they can build the kind of meaningful relationships that are vital to achieving authentic diversity, inclusion, and well-being. An additional way for people to grow in these areas is to focus on learning from (rather than escaping) uncomfortable situations with others, he said. “When you’re feeling uncomfortable in a situation but are still willing to be present and be curious and see what can happen there and what you can learn from it, you can grow as a person.” He added that he’s grateful Mason’s culture as a well-being university prioritizes these issues that matter to many college students. “George Mason is building a great reputation for well-being now,” he said.
Dr. Lisa Park, a physician at Student Health Services, also said she was thankful for the level of commitment Mason has to become a place that exemplifies well-being. “As an Asian American minority, diversity is an interest of mine, so I wanted to be here,” she said, “and it’s really encouraging to see the leaders of Mason so excited about this summit.”
Park said she often sees how the connections between the summit’s topics of diversity, inclusion, and well-being affect Mason’s students. “When I see patients, it’s not like I see them in a vacuum. There are a lot of pieces that are related to diversity and inclusion that are affecting their health – anxiety and depression about stress they’re facing from their concerns and worries as minorities. That affects their well-being, both physically and mentally.”
Bradley Brooks, Student Life Advisor, Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA)’s Alexandria campus, traveled with two NOVA students to the summit. “Having been a low-income, first-generation college student, these issues are very personal for me – and they matter to many of the students we have at NOVA,” he said, adding that about 3,000 NOVA students transfer to Mason every year. Brooks said he is looking forward to continuing to discuss diversity, inclusion, and well-being within the partnership between Mason and NOVA: “The more we collaborate with each other on these issues, the more successful our students can be.”
James Slattery, a Mason parent whose daughter is a senior majoring in Education – and they both highly value diversity, inclusion, and well-being, he said. Slattery decided to devote the day to participating to explore more. “It’s a learning experience for me,” he said. “And I wonder: What are the standards? How do you measure success? What are your metrics to know we have achieved a result that actually improves diversity, inclusion, or well-being?”
Slattery says he wants to make Mason a destination for everyone who wants to learn more about the issues the summit highlighted. He suggested hosting related events on a regular basis at Mason: “Bring events to campus where people can see how fun and inviting it can be to experience diversity, inclusion, and well-being.”
Laura Buckwald, a graduate student in the School of Integrated Studies pursuing a degree in Leadership, Resilience, and Well-Being, said she wants to see well-being researchers from diverse backgrounds emerge from Mason in the future. That way, she said, the research can reflect a variety of perspectives. “You can’t truly have well-being in society unless you have diversity and inclusion,” Buckwald noted. “You have to hear everyone’s voices.”
The summit can lead to great work happening in diversity, inclusion, and well-being in the future, said Park. “We definitely have the groundwork here at Mason,” she said. “It’s now a matter of building on that foundation with actionable items for the future. I’m really hoping that what we’re discussing at this summit will become ubiquitous in our work and relationships at Mason.”