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New conference brings Blugolds together to focus on equity and diversity

| Judy Berthiaume

Photo caption: Blugolds will come together at the first "Bridge to Change" conference to gain understanding about EDI-related topics that touch the campus community.

Bridge to Change logo

The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire will host the “Bridge to Change: EDI Student Conference” in November, bringing students together to explore inclusive leadership while focusing on equity and diversity.

The virtual conference will run from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Nov. 8.

“The Bridge Change” conference was created to offer all UW-Eau Claire students an opportunity to enhance their cultural intelligence, says Dr. Demetrius D. Smith, special assistant to the vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion.

“When students sign up and attend this conference, they can expect a dynamic keynote speaker, educational breakout sessions and interactive critical-thinking breaks,” Smith says. “This conference is just the beginning of what our students will receive from the Center for EDI (Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) Training, Development and Education led by Jodi Thesing-Ritter.”

The newly created EDI center offers Blugolds a variety of programming options that aim to enhance their understanding of EDI, while helping them become more culturally responsible and knowledgeable, says Thesing-Ritter, director of the Center for EDI Training, Development and Education.

The Nov. 8 conference will be valuable to all UW-Eau Claire students interested in better understanding EDI-related topics, says Michael Thomas, student services coordinator in the Office of Multicultural Affairs.

“The ‘Bridge To Change’ conference is an incredible opportunity for UWEC students to engage with a wide range of critical EDI topics,” Thomas says. “The content centers on marginalized voices and experiences, but it also empowers our students to be active participants in helping to positively transform the UWEC experience.”

Students participating in the “Bridge to Change” conference will explore EDI-related topics that impact the people who study and work at UW-Eau Claire, helping them better understand the diverse cultures and experiences of the people who are part of their campus community, says Katy Rand, senior coordinator of student leadership.

Among the conference goals is that students begin to understand their role in helping to make the campus a welcoming and inclusive place for everyone, Rand says. That understanding also will be valuable in the future as Blugolds live and work in increasingly global societies and workplaces, she says.

Romeo Jackson will be the keynote speaker during the conference.

Romeo Jackson will be the keynote speaker during the conference.

The keynote speaker at the conference is Romeo Jackson, who is the inaugural LGBTQ & Gender Program coordinator at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Jackson’s research, writing and practice explores race/ism, anti-Blackness and settler colonialism within a higher education context with an emphasis on the experiences of queer and trans students of color.

Alejandra Serna hopes to share her experiences as a student of color and learn from others during the “Bridge to Change” conference.

Alejandra Serna hopes to share her experiences as a student of color and learn from others during the “Bridge to Change” conference.

UW-Eau Claire senior Alejandra Serna says she welcomes the opportunity to be part of an event that will bring students, faculty and staff together to share their experiences and discuss EDI-related topics.

“Our campus is a predominately white campus and having a conference like the ‘Bridge to Change’ is an opportunity for everyone on campus to hear and learn from real-life students of color and our experiences,” says Serna, a business administration major with a minor in finance and a certificate in economics of global issues. “Taking the time as a campus to explore critical and sensitive topics can bring our community closer.”

The conference will give her an opportunity to share her experiences, while also learning from others within the campus community, Serna says.

“I hope to connect with students, faculty and staff, and learn as much as I can,” says Serna, a native of Chicago. “I hope I can contribute to our campus goal of creating a culture of inclusion.”

Another highlight of the conference will be meeting the conference’s keynote speaker, Romeo Jackson, says Serna, noting that she and Jackson both grew up in Chicago.

Madalyn McCabe is eager to engage in EDI-related discussions with other Blugolds.

Madalyn McCabe is eager to engage in EDI-related discussions with other Blugolds.

Madalyn McCabe, a social studies education major with an emphasis in history and political science who is pursuing minors in European studies and French, also is eager to participate in the conference.

“I think it will be a good opportunity to learn and unlearn in a safe space with others,” says McCabe, a sophomore from New Berlin. “The ‘Bridge to Change’ conference gives us more time to unpack what it means to promote EDI practices in professional and personal environments.”

McCabe is part of UW-Eau Claire’s new EDI Student Leadership Certificate program, which requires students to participate in 10 EDI-related sessions or workshops, and complete and present an EDI-related project. Participation in the conference will help students fulfill the certificate requirements.

Kaylie Bernard welcomes the opportunity to gain new knowledge and perspectives about EDI topics before she graduates in December.

Kaylie Bernard welcomes the opportunity to gain new knowledge about EDI topics before she graduates in December.

Kaylie Bernard, a senior who is studying finance and operations/supply chain management, also will attend the “Bridge to Change” conference.

She hopes it will help her gain new perspectives and understanding about EDI-related topics and issues, says Bernard, a Chatfield, Minnesota, native who plans to earn her EDI certificate before she graduates in December.

“I think listening to firsthand accounts of people with a different perspective than me is the best way for me to learn,” Bernard says. “I feel like with where we are in this country, training and programs like these are instrumental in teaching the younger generations about what is currently happening and how we can help. This is a very important opportunity for students at UWEC.”

The new EDI student training program — including the “Bridge to Change” conference — will help her and other current and future Blugolds be more successful professionally and personally, Bernard says.

“I think knowledge is power,” Bernard says. “Knowledge gives you a new way of looking at things. The insights I can gain by this training are not typically found in workplace and education spaces right now so that makes it even more valuable. This knowledge will be of value to myself, those around me and my future company.”

Hopefully, Bernard says, UW-Eau Claire’s student EDI training initiatives will become a model for other universities and workplaces.

“It is very important that UWEC is taking these steps and acknowledging that this is important,” Bernard says of educating students about EDI topics.

You can find more information about the conference online or by contacting Dr. Demetrius Smith at 715-836-3629 or smithdem@uwec.edu.