Owl Have You Know

Evolving Perspectives on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Rice feat. Professor Connie Porter & Professor Alex Byrd

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Episode notes

The topic of DEI is all over the news lately. But what are we talking about when we say “diversity, equity, and inclusion?” And why has it become such a charged topic? Joining us today to discuss these questions and more are Connie Porter and Alex Byrd.

Connie Porter is the senior associate dean of the office for diversity, equity and inclusion at Rice Business and an associate clinical professor of marketing. As a member of the dean’s senior leadership team, she strengthens the school’s DEI efforts and broadens its community engagement. Connie joined Rice in 2011, and her research focuses on the value of fostering customer relationships in technology-enabled marketing environments.

Since 2020, Alex Byrd has been the vice provost for diversity, equity and inclusion at Rice University. In that role, Alex provides high-level strategic leadership for diversity initiatives and coordinates offices across campus to help create a hub for all programs and efforts around diversity. Alex is also an associate professor of history. His area of expertise is Afro-America, especially Black life in the Atlantic world and the Jim Crow South. 

Connie and Alex sit down with host Scott Gale ’19 to share what DEI means to them; why they believe DEI efforts are critical for universities and organizations to implement; what impact the 2019 Rice Task Force on Slavery, Segregation, and Racial Injustice has had on the university; and what kind of misconceptions persist when it comes to understanding this work. 

Episode Guide: 

00:20 Defining Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

02:46 Alex Byrd’s Perspective on DEI and its Historical Context

05:05 Exploring the Landscape of DEI at Rice University

08:51 Connie Porter on DEI Challenges and Progress at Rice Business

11:47 Task Force on Slavery, Segregation, and Racial Injustice

15:03 Addressing Misconceptions and the Importance of Allyship

25:34 Collaborative Impact and Future Aspirations for DEI

Owl Have You Know is a production of Rice Business and is produced by University FM.

Episode Quotes:

On the difference of equity and equality

18:35: [Connie Porter]: This concept of equity is somehow thought to be robbing one group of something and giving it to another, fixing the game, controlling the outcomes, and all of these negative connotations. And as I suggested earlier, there's quite a bit of a difference between the concepts of equity and equality. And if we think about the role of justice in all of this and procedural justice versus distributive justice, if we think about procedural justice and process and due process and fair process and fair access and creating opportunities for every person to thrive, that doesn't necessarily mean that everyone is going to land equally in the same place, but we need an equal opportunity to do that, and I think people don't quite get the concept of equity and what it's trying to accomplish, and that it is not about keeping other people from getting something that they're due.

Understanding difference before addressing it

17:02 [Alex Byrd]: If you believe in universities, you need to pause and be very careful around people who are making arguments about DEI that want to control what people know and learn… [17:69] People want to turn away from understanding what's different about us, thinking that understanding what's different about us keeps us from uniting. You understand the difference so that you can address it, so you can work better together, and so that you can move more forthrightly into justice.

What makes a true DEI ally?

19:40 [Connie Porter]: I've come to realize in this first three years of my position in this role, the word ally is very powerful. It's one that people who are supportive of DEI want to be associated with. We encourage people to be, in fact, great allies. But I hear a lot of people self-anointing as an ally, and I just have to say that I find it really a misconception, a big one, that an ally is simply a morally good person who voices support for DEI or just doesn't stand in the way of it. An ally in a lot of the work that's being done in business around this is around the work of being a change agent within organizations. It's action-oriented. It's someone who is knowledgeable and action-oriented around that knowledge. 

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