Diversity, equity and inclusion at Rasmussen University

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Rasmussen University

Transformative Education for All

We believe higher education is about more than taking courses and earning a degree; it is about being challenged by different perspectives and learning to communicate with respect. It is about opportunities that could change your life—and the support to make it possible. Diversity, equity and inclusion are not just abstract goals for Rasmussen University. They are critical to our purpose.

Our DEI Purpose Statement

Rasmussen University promotes diversity awareness; respect for multiple perspectives; equity for all students, staff and faculty; and inclusion among all University stakeholders in and out of the classroom.

Where We Started

During the women’s suffrage movement in the early 1900s, Rasmussen University offered career-driven courses that allowed women to join the workforce. While there was—and still is—more to be done for other minorities, it is this spirit of equality that has helped steer our school over the past 120+ years.

historic Rasmussen photo collage

Where We Are Now

We are proud to serve a diverse student body—made up of different genders, ages, races and ethnicities. By offering flexible, affordable programs and step-by-step support, we aim to make education more accessible for everyone.


of students are women


of students are over the age of 25


of students are of color3

Teaching Diversity and Teamwork in Every Program

Working on a diverse team is something every student should be able to do—regardless of their degree. That’s why diversity and teamwork, along with five other transferable skills, are integrated into every program at Rasmussen University. Not only do we focus on the core technical skills that employers value, but the core qualities that are essential to being successful in society and the workforce.

Learn more about transferable skills at Rasmussen

Increasing Access through Empowered Learning™ and Knowledge Credit™

With jobs, families and other responsibilities, traditional education doesn't work for everyone. But it doesn’t have to. We are dedicated to offering alternative paths to a degree. Empowered Learning offers flexible course schedules, and Knowledge Credit allows students to get credit for what they already know, saving them time and money on their education.

Learn more about Empowered Learning
Learn more about Knowledge Credit

Listening and Learning through Rasmussen Real Talk

In 2020, after the murder of George Floyd in an area close to home for many of our Minnesota campuses, it became clear that we needed an outlet for honest conversation. In an on-going discussion series called Rasmussen Real Talk, students and faculty come together to listen, seek community and talk about topics including community policing, anti-Asian hate and more.

George Floyd mural

Celebrating First-Generation College Students

One in four students at Rasmussen University tell us they are the first in their families to attend college.1 You can read some of their stories in our News Center, including that of Pang Houa Vang-Yang, a first-generation Rasmussen alum. Read more

Another way to understand this community is through the results of a 2020 survey sent to all first-gen students at Rasmussen:2

  • 95% of respondents pursued higher education to fulfill a personal goal
  • 33% of respondents already had some college experience
  • 25% of respondents were between the ages of 26 and 30
  • 63% of respondents chose Rasmussen University because of flexible course schedules

As we learn more about the strengths and needs of first-gen students, we are dedicated to making sure they feel uniquely seen and supported.

Pang Houa Vang-Yang

Recognizing Dr. Martin Luther King Junior Day

In our January 2021 discussion, “His Dream Deferred: The State of Dr. King's Dream and How We can Advance it Together,” a panel of community leaders came together to discuss the significance of Dr. King’s legacy and how it affects civil rights today.

View transcript(Scroll to see full transcript)

MaNesha Stiff (00:00:30):

Good morning, everyone. Thank you for joining us this morning, and welcome to Rasmussen University as we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Today, you will hear our panelists have a very candid conversation about how far we have come relative to Dr. King's dream, but oh-so-far that we have yet to go. We'll take you on this journey. One of our guests, our very own Virginia Knox, was right there in the heart of the civil rights movement, and she will tell us about her journey, especially. So, I just want to thank you all. I don't think I said who I am. I'm Dr. MaNesha Stiff. So thank you all for joining us this morning, and we look forward to an awesome panel. And now, I will turn it over to Dr. Ann Leja, the president of Rasmussen University.

Ann Leja (00:01:43):

Oh, thank you, MaNesha. I am absolutely honored to be here today. And on behalf of the entire leadership team at Rasmussen University, I want to welcome all of you to this celebration of the life and legacy of Martin Luther King. And I really also want to extend a big thank-you to the organizers and presenters who are making this possible. A lot of work goes into these events. But I want to speak for a few minutes on some of my reflections on Martin Luther King. I was in grade school during the time that he was alive and giving speeches. And what stayed with me from classroom discussions was the message of hope and dignity that he promised. I attended a Catholic grade school in a suburb of Milwaukee with most students coming from families who had been very successful. I did not live in the suburb where the school was located, and my father was a mailman.

I struggled with trying to fit in. And Martin Luther King's promise of hope and dignity for everyone really resonated with me, most likely because of my lived experience at the time. And that hope has stayed in my heart to this day. But it's important not to just reflect on the life and work of a great man and the civil rights movement, but also to use his message to make changes. Martin Luther King began the work, and it’s far from done, as Dr. Stiff has said. Disparities still exist in education, levels of poverty and levels of opportunity, and the acts of aggression that have increased over this past year is evidence of the work that still needs to be done. But we have the opportunity every day to realize the power that comes with understanding others. And I’m very excited for the work we can do together.

So our goal today is really to recommit to the work of Martin Luther King and to do our part to make a difference and lead change. I look forward to the program today, and thanks again to everyone for joining. And now, it is my pleasure to introduce Lyn Lumpkin, the senior admissions advisor from our Mokena campus, who will be the moderator for the panel. Lyn has 17 years of admissions experience, spending the past seven years at Rasmussen. She is known for effortlessly forming meaningful bonds with her students and peers. Her role now includes training new hires and providing support for other admissions advisors. As the referral champion for her campus, Lyn believes in the power of sharing your success with others. She's currently a member of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee and desires to be part of making change for the better. Lyn, I'm going to turn this over to you to introduce the panelists. Thank you.

Lyn Lumpkin (00:04:33):

Thank you. I appreciate that. So I want to introduce the panel today. It is Angela Lang, Jeff Beckham, Celisia, Virginia Knox. And I'm going to give them some time to, you know, tell us a little bit about themselves, starting with Angela.

Angela Lang (00:04:55):

Good morning, everyone. First of all, thanks for being here, and thanks for having me. I serve currently as the founder and executive director of an organization called BLOC: Black Leaders Organizing for Communities, based in Milwaukee. BLOC just celebrated its three-year anniversary in November. We formed really as a response to the 2016 election, in some cases the outcome of the election. But in a lot of ways, people were blaming our community for not showing up. And I thought it was a really dangerous and harmful narrative that our community is some of the most disenfranchised and least engaged. Yet time and time again, we've seen that we've shown up for democracy when democracy hasn't shown up for us. So that was really the foundation of making sure that we are able to make sure all of our community is able to participate in a process that quite frankly wasn't designed for us to participate in. And we're seeing the backlash and effects of that. And so I'll stop there. I'm really excited to be here and to learn from some of the other panelists as well.

Lyn Lumpkin (00:06:04):

Thank you so much for that. We're going to take it to Jeff Beckham, Jr. You can go ahead and introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about yourself.

Jeff Beckham, Jr. (00:06:13):

Hey, good afternoon. Well, good morning, everyone. My name's Jeff Beckham, Jr. I currently serve as the interim chief executive officer for Chicago Scholars. Chicago Scholars is an organization that works with over 4,000 plus young students who are first generation, first in their families to go to college, first to enter the workforce. And we help them with college support to get them to college and through college and into their career. We really focus on the entire and the whole student. Recently, our organizations embarked upon a diversity, equity and inclusion journey where we wanted to make sure that we are practicing the same things that we're asking our corporate and college partners to as well, to build and create safe spaces that are inclusive for our young people who are again, walking into situations, oftentimes, being the first in their families. And so I'm excited today to talk to you more about the work that I'm doing in the community, to talk about Dr. King's dream and his legacy and how it continues to live on, and how we still have a lot of work left.

Lyn Lumpkin (00:07:18):

Thank you, Jeff. I would like to introduce Celisia Stanton. Can you go ahead and tell us a little bit about yourself?

Celisia Stanton (00:07:28):

Hi, everyone. My name is Celisia Stanton, and I am the director of the Minnesota Debate Institute and a debate coach. I also own a photography business, but what we do with my debate camp is really aimed at providing accessibility to debate for high school and middle school students. And then, I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota. So this summer, after the murder of George Floyd, I took to social media to kind of start doing some educational work, really trying to spread messages that I had learned through my experience in debate as a debate coach, my experiences living in Minneapolis and kind of grew my Instagram account to be this dialogue space for folks in the community. So now that's 40,000 people, and we are consistently engaging in dialogue around these issues. I’m really excited to be with you all today to chat and hear from the other panelists to talk about what's happened during the civil rights event. Dr. King's dream is still so relevant today. All of the things that we still are working on, people have been working on for so many years, and to kind of start talking about how do we continue the way forward.

Lyn Lumpkin (00:08:47):

Thank you so much, Celisia. And now we are going to introduce our very own Virginia Knox. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Virginia Knox (00:08:55):

Good morning, everyone. I am Virginia Knox, and I currently teach the reading and writing strategies course here at Rasmussen University. And I also coach in the competency-based education program. My employment for Rasmussen started in 1981, so it would be 40 years this July 3rd. And at that time, we were Rasmussen Business School and then Rasmussen College. And of course, now we celebrate being Rasmussen University. The owners of the college were Bill and Bob Nemitz. And I started at the campus that was located in downtown St. Paul. Bill hired me to teach shorthand, keyboarding, calculators and other business courses, which were a part of a huge secretarial program, which offered certificates and diplomas. And so, when I was asked to be a part of this panel for today, I did give Dr. Stiff a little background information about myself. And so I'd like to just take a few moments to carry you through that journey. 

As I said before, I started in 1981, and as Dr. Leja mentioned, she was actually in school and a young teen during those years. And so was I. I was born and raised in McComb, Mississippi, which is a town located about 80 miles outside of Jackson, which is the capital. The Mississippi state capital. McComb was deemed the bomb capital of the world in 1964. And it was known because of that, because in the Black community, there were a number of bombings and burnings of churches and homes. And so, many of the Blacks were, or all of the Blacks, I should say, were harassed. And if you had any dealings with the civil rights movement or voter registration, or providing any assistance for the movement, then you were targeted. In the sixties, I also experienced that. So you see that picture of the two drinking fountains. So I experienced separate drinking fountains, one for colored and one for whites. Separate waiting areas at the train station, separate windows at the ice cream stands, separate seating at the movie theater where whites sat in the lower level, and Blacks sat in the balcony. It's a different story today. I'm reminded that also in 1963, I was enrolled in a segregated school system that promoted separate but equal education. Each community, of course, had an elementary school, and then we had a combination of middle and high school. My peers and I always had used textbooks. They were never new. And we could always tell that these were used books, for the most part, that in the flap of the book, we would see names like Wendy or Becky or Susan. And so therefore, we knew now that these were our peers that lived across town on the other side of the railroad track. 

In the sixties, it was also a time that I remember when my mother and others marched for the right to vote, but there was an opposition. And that opposition is that they had to take a test, the voting test. Now, the test included questions pertaining to the Mississippi laws and the state of Mississippi, I should say. But the test also included a few outlandish questions, such as how many bubbles are in a bar of soap, and how many marbles or jelly beans in a jar, and recite specific scriptures in the Bible. So, yes, that's all true. I can remember my mother and others studying for the test, and they felt that if they knew all of the state-type questions and if they missed the bubbles or jelly bean questions, that they still would be able to pass the test. But they never did. They never passed the test. There would always be too many jelly beans or marbles, or not enough. And yes, these are American citizens, but because we were Negroes, they could not vote. That right was not granted until 1965 when the Voting Act passed. 

My educational experience, however, consisted of heroes. I like to call them heroes. And they made it possible that we could read, write, develop critical-thinking skills, and most of all, dream—have that dream of a possibility of a better life and future. And that was their mission. And as some of the kids would say, today, they didn’t play. And so if we didn’t have our homework done, or we were disorderly in class, then of course, we were disciplined—spanked with rulers or leather straps. And I can remember them having a board that had the imprint of Board of Education on it. Was I ever disciplined? Yes. And that honor goes to my aunt Merdice, who was my sixth-grade teacher. A cousin and I, of course, were the poster child. So anything that went wrong in the class, we, of course, we did it. And so we got the spankings. And so I'm pretty sure that my classmates thought, “Well, gee, if she's going to spank them, what would she do to us? Because we are not even related to her.” And so my aunt Merdice would spank us, and we probably deserved it. And whenever we would tell our parents at home, “Well, Aunt Merdice disciplined me today,” they more or less said, “Well, you probably deserved it.” I can truly say that the sixth grade was perhaps one of the most productive years in elementary school for me. 

Education for us, not sports, was the way out, and preparation was a priority. And so many of us carried that with us from when we graduated from high school and attended mostly HBCUs—historically Black colleges and universities. I'm a graduate of Alcorn University, and my husband is a graduate of Jackson State. 

Dr. King's dream—we would all live in a nation where everyone is not judged by the color of their skin but the content of their character. We can all perhaps take a portion of that dream, and we can pretty much say that some parts of it has been realized, but we're still a work in progress. We can see that we've evolved through education, culture, politics. We have billionaires of color, CEOs of corporations, governors, vice presidents. And my mother's youngest brother actually was the first Black to be elected and reelected in 2005, the mayor of a little town outside of McComb, Mississippi. So, if you watch the movie Mississippi Burning, then that gives you a little information or a little picture of what went on also during the sixties. 

As I started, I said I was hired in ‘81, and I was the first teacher of color for Rasmussen. So, attending yearly school meetings and other functions was never a problem. However, it was a little different from the student aspect. There were very few students of color, and many of these students came from the suburbs of St. Paul. And they would more or less tell me, “Well, Virginia, we've never had, or I've never had, a Black teacher before.” And I would smile and of course, think of Arsenio Hall and say that, you know, think of the things that make you go, “Hmm.” And so I was often challenged with my responses to questions like, “Are you sure?” And I would say, “Am I sure of what?” “Are you sure that's the right answer?” So my evil Black girl twin would say, “Oh, no, she didn't go there. Please, please, let me answer that question. Shoot.” And so I would always have to keep her in check and use that time as a teachable moment. And so, take a couple deep breathing exercises, and I would have the students to turn to a reference page and read it out loud. And the facial expression usually was a telling point. And no, none of my Black students would always question me about my knowledge. So over time, I would hear them say, “Oh, ask Virginia. She knows.” And then my Black girl evil twin would show up and roll her eyes and turn her head around like Linda Blair in The Exorcist. Over the years, I've been able to keep her in check. However, she does come out on occasions when I'm shopping and being followed in stores. 

The dream now has wishes and hopes and that of racial injustice and the pandemic environment, economic crisis, and other—and again, once again, I should say, the right to vote, voter suppression. And so, I hope that we are not in acceptance of our thinking that the dream has been accomplished. It's just that, as a dream. There are sequences, there are another additional stages. And so as a university, we continue to work toward that dream, and so we must work together and grow that dream. And Michael Jackson's lyrics, Man in the Mirror—Michael Jackson's song, I should say—there's a lyric that says, "If we're going to make a change, I'm starting with the man in the mirror. I'm asking him to change his ways.” So the dream continues, and so we must remember history, and we must learn from it. 

I'm a huge Maya Angelou fan, and so I'll leave you with this quote. “History depicts its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.” Thank you.

Lyn Lumpkin (00:19:06):

Thank you so much, Ms. Virginia. I appreciate that. We are now going to get into our questions for the panelists today. So the first question is going to go to Angela. Reflecting on 2020, it's been a very turbulent year. We saw the killing of George Floyd. We saw our own communities go up in flames with demonstration and protest. And then COVID has left us, you know, scared and quarantined, quite frankly. So Angela, can you describe to me the state of the community or state in relation to our current social and economic climate? What does your community look like right now?

Angela Lang (00:19:54):

Yeah, I think broadly we're just hurting. We're struggling, I think as a community, unfortunately. My team is tasked with doing outreach and direct voter contact, all day, every day. And we knew that we had four elections in 2020, so we had a lot of work to do. And it got to be this point, when you're organizing from a community that you are directly a part of, every issue feels very deeply personal to you. It's not like I'm organizing in a different community, and all the issues that I'm organizing I don't fully understand. They’re so intimately impacting our team. And so there are times where we had to talk about mental health challenges—the kind of side effects of the pandemic that you don't always see, like the increased isolation and challenges in mental health, the increased domestic violence, because people don't have a safe space to isolate and to quarantine and to be safe. 

And so, we were real… It was tough. 2020 was tough. It seems that 2021 is starting out trying to one-up 2020, it seems in this moment. And I think we are all collectively exhausted. We're all collectively traumatized. But something that I always love about our people is that we are so resilient. We will make a dollar out of 15 cents. We will make it work. We will find a way to find joy in the darkest of moments. And that's really, I think, really encompassing, not only of the Black community in Milwaukee, but I think our ancestors and Black people as a whole, that no matter what in the face of adversity, no matter how challenging things can be, how traumatized we are, we lean on each other. We support each other. There were mutual aid support systems set up for the pandemic to make sure that people had what they needed and resources. And so I think while 2020, and 2021 honestly is starting off to be very traumatic, I find joy in knowing that our people are resilient in the face of all that trauma. And making sure that we're able to navigate how our trauma actually is manifesting day to day and so we're not perpetuating our trauma on our community, and we can all heal collectively too.

Lyn Lumpkin (00:22:16):

Absolutely. Does any of the other panelists have anything to add to that?

Jeff Beckham, Jr. (00:22:23):

Yeah, I would just echo some of the same sentiments. Once the quarantine happened here in Chicago, initially, you know, we thought that we'd be in the house for a few weeks, you know, a month or two. And I think that the initial response, even from our organization and for our scholars, was like, hunker down, stay in the house a couple weeks. Do what you got to do. We'll be okay, we'll get through this. Nobody expected that it to be, I think, 348 days that we're in this now. And so the initial response for us was that. And then once we saw that this might be longer form, we had to move to support our young people. A lot of our students being first generation or low income didn't have the finances and the luxury to be able to pack up everything and move home like they were told to do in many of the colleges and universities across the country. And so, you know, we supported them with that. But we also wanted to make sure that as we stood up supports as an organization, we did so in a way, in a manner, that would address the needs that they had. So we did town halls, and we actually called every student to make sure that our students had what they needed. We continued to lean in with that kind of personalization and that approach to problem solving, even through social unrest and the racial justice unrest that happened across the country. We took time with our young people and our stakeholders to understand what they were going through and what they were challenged with. 

And I think that's something that as an organization, we've learned that lesson that in the midst of the ambiguity and the volatile nature of the way things change so rapidly, the approach to personalization and really leaning in to being there for people where they need us to be there for them is the most critically important thing we can do. We don't have all the answers. We don't profess to have them all. No one in our organization is the magic oracle that can predict what's happening next, especially with regard to this pandemic and what's happened in the last year. But the way by which we go about the work, and the way by which we lead is one of people first and put people over everything. And I think that that's what has helped us make it to this point of resiliency and being able to see some light at the end of this tunnel.

Lyn Lumpkin (00:24:33):

Absolutely. Okay. Well, Dr. King had a dream that we would all get along, and right now, our country is kind of split. So this question’s for you Virginia. King’s dream foretold a day when our nation would remove judgment on color of person, of skin, and instead consider a person based on their character. In what ways has your community been able to fulfill this vision? … Is she on mute?

Virginia Knox (00:25:14):

Yes. I'm on mute.

Lyn Lumpkin (00:25:15):


Virginia Knox (00:25:19):

It's been a while since I've been out there in the community. And when I was told about this presentation today—or celebration today—I meet on a regular basis with a group of classmates of mine, from when I graduated from high school. And I put forth this topic to them, you know, the dream deferred and had a discussion with them. And just to give you a little background information about that discussion and what came out of it, we asked ourselves, “What have we done?” “Could we have done more?” And “What is it that we can do in the future to reach back and be able to help those that we were coming along with?” And we found, or we talked about, you know, that we probably did not present ourselves more with our children or grandchildren, and therefore, we may have laxed and dropped the ball a little bit. And so as a group, we've all decided that, okay, we're going to meet and try and go back and see if there's something within the community, which is in Mississippi to help those students and be able to bridge that gap and give them the strength and give them the knowledge that we were given back during that time to help bring them along.

Lyn Lumpkin (00:26:48):

Thank you so much. Does any of the other panelists have anything to add to that? Okay. And so, with that being said, Black Lives Matter has brought a lot of attention to unjust killings of our sisters and brothers by police officers. Celisia, can you tell me how Black Lives Matter has grown exponentially in the past decade. Like the civil rights movement, it's being led by younger generation and what started because of many injustices that the Black community still face. Do you feel like Black Lives Matter is to King's dream today, what the civil rights movement was to his dream back then? If so, why or why not?

Celisia Stanton (00:27:46):

On that question, I think that what’s so interesting is that Black Lives Matter is ultimately the culmination of everything that came before it. So, in some ways, yes, all of the momentum that we’re experiencing right now, all of, you know, the intensity that was 2020, I feel like is a result of the same things that have been, that folks have been fighting for, for ever, for hundreds of years. And yet also, Black Lives Matter is, you know, it’s an evolution of everything that came before, right? It’s its own distinct moment, it’s a distinct movement as well. And yet it is interconnected. So I think that it’s really exciting as a young person coming of age in Minneapolis and sort of seeing the ways in which, my life to this point, my family’s lives to this point, are linking in to this moment that we're living in right now and what tools are we all able to utilize in this moment that are distinct to try to bring to life the same vision that Dr. King and so many other folks who worked so hard during the civil rights movement, and then, the Black Power Movement that would follow it, and how can we use these new tools that we have at our disposal to bring onboard new people, to add solidarity to this movement? I think one of the things that Angela was talking about before that I really, really loved was this idea of resilience, of community care, of coming together. And I think that what’s really exciting is even during this pandemic, which is so isolating where we are all coming into a video chat, you know, from all over the country—that’s so isolating and yet so connected and is a product of this exact moment where we have the technology we have, where we have the momentum that we have. So ultimately I think that, yeah, Black Lives Matter is this culmination of Dr. King’s dream. And at the same time, it allows us to work on so many other things that we, that folks back then wouldn’t even know it was possible in this moment that we’re living in right now in 2021.

Lyn Lumpkin (00:30:09):

Absolutely. Does any other panelist have anything to add to this question?

Jeff Beckham, Jr. (00:30:16):

Yeah, I’ll chime in. I think one of the things that I’ve read recently is that this is really the juxtaposition of the fourth kind of revolution or reconstruction of our country, right? So, they said that the Revolutionary War was the first. Of course, slavery and reconstruction was the second. Jim Crow and the civil rights era was the third. And we are in the crux of the fourth. And I think one of the things that is unique in this moment is that the movement that is Black Lives Matter has a unique opportunity to shape what the future of the country will look like moving forward. I want the momentum that was felt this summer with regard to the marches and protests to continue. You know, when I was out marching and came back in, I got a lot of calls from a lot of companies and organizations across the country asking me the question of how they can contribute to change. I’m sad to say that a lot of those calls and those questions and comments have stopped at this point. We’re not even talking, it’s been a full year yet. So, what I’m hoping is that the energy and the momentum that Black Lives Matter had this summer, we can help fuel that. We can continue to be the fire. And I do believe that it is built on the civil rights era and the movements of the past. I am excited by the prospect of what technology and the lack of some of the systemic boundaries that existed through the sixties, just on sheer nature, not having the ability to connect as rapidly and to disseminate information as rapidly, utilizing tools like tech and Twitter and social media. I’m hoping that we continue to use those to push the agenda and push the message of equity and inclusion and freedom for people of color in this country.

Lyn Lumpkin (00:32:08):

Absolutely. Okay. So we have posted a question in the chat, continuing on with staying on Black Lives Matter, and this is to the audience. Do you consider it to be a series of moments or a movement that will continue to be a catalyst for change? Do you feel like Black Lives Matter will be a series of moments or a movement that will continue to be a catalyst for change? So we’re going to have our audience answer that question and also have our panelists talk about it while they’re answering the question. So do you guys want to chime in on that? Who wants to go first? <laugh>

Celisia Stanton (00:32:56):

I can say something on it quickly. I have been thinking about this a lot for a while. I read something or maybe I saw a video where Angela Davis has asked a similar question, how do we know that we’re in a movement? And I think that there’s probably no objective answer to that question, but one of the things that I think about during the civil rights movement is, we think about these really big moments that happened, right? That stick out to us—speeches or legislation or policies. And then sometimes what fades into the background are those years in between where it feels like so much isn’t happening or where so much pushback is happening, blowback to, response to, the progress that's being made. And so I ultimately feel like 2020 moving into where we are moving right now in 2021, is one of those big spurts where a lot is happening. 

There’s a lot of action, there’s a lot of people on the ground and it is indicative of a movement. But so are these, you know, moments that might follow, that might feel like long periods where not a lot is happening or people are more disengaged. And I think about all of the organizers and people on the ground who are doing such amazing work, day after day, year after year, that basically set the foundation for any of these other bigger moments to catalyze. And we never know when the perfect conditions are going to come up, that are going to create huge response. And it’s all of those folks who are doing amazing mutual aid work, connecting with their community, building those roots that allow these bigger moments to kind of pop and happen.So my personal belief is that we’re definitely in the movement. I don’t know if we’re in the beginning, if we’re in the middle, like at what point we are, but I definitely think that I’m excited about what’s to come, and I’m expecting periods of discouragement, where hope feels difficult. But I think that that’s something, a lesson that we can take from all the folks who came before us, ancestors, and just all of the hope that they kept in spite of insurmountable odds.

Lyn Lumpkin (00:35:19):

Agree. And I’m still waiting for the question to be answered. So if you guys are looking at the chat, there’s a link there to click on to answer the question. Is this a movement or a moment for Black Lives Matter? But as you answer that question, we can move on to the next question.

MaNesha Stiff (00:35:47):

Hi, Lyn.

Lyn Lumpkin (00:35:48):

Hey! <laugh>.

MaNesha Stiff (00:35:50):

Hi. We do have some responses here. For the most part, it looks like people believe that Black Lives Matter is a movement. We do have some people who feel like it’s too soon to tell, but 67.2% feel like it is a movement. So there you have it.

Lyn Lumpkin (00:36:12):

Thank you, <laugh>. Okay. All right. So the next question I have is for Jeff. When I think of civil rights leaders today, I think of Jesse Jackson and our late John Lewis. I would like to know, the Civil Rights Movement had clear individuals that were identified as leaders of that movement. Do you feel like we have designated leaders comparable to those of King and his peers? And if so, who are they?

Jeff Beckham, Jr. (00:36:53):

That’s a tough question. I mean, it’s hard to compare a leader and say we have leaders of the ilk, or we have leaders with the gravitas and the weight of the leadership responsibility like a Dr. King. I think that the time that we live in requires different kinds of leaders. And I think that what we’ve learned from past opportunities in the movement, when enemies take out the head, you lost a lot of momentum of the movement. And I think one of the things that Black Lives Matter has spoken to and prided itself on is this idea of multiple leaders across the country with like decentralized leadership like posts, right? There’s no one head. There’s many, many, many, many, many, many people doing the work. And I think that that is what’s required at this time.

I know we’ve got leaders and big voices in the room, folks that are academics, folks that lead in their particular area and lane, but I don’t think we have a person that is, you know, the figurehead of the movement like a Dr. King or John Lewis or Malcolm X. I just think the time is different. And I think that the opportunity to use your voice and to write and create, and create narrative and create content is different as well, right? Like there was, you know, the media and the way people go about information and about getting information was so different during the civil rights era. You had newspapers and you had three channels, you know, <laugh> two, you know, CBS, ABC and NBC. Now there are hundreds of thousands, literally, ways that you can get information daily. And so I think that poses opportunity. It also poses some challenges, right? You know, we have a whole side of our country, roughly 74 million plus people who will only get information from specific news sources who are peddling lies to them each and every day, right? And then to be fair and balanced on the other side, you have to really watch and craft an information diet for yourself too and what you get, because I’ve seen how the same story has been cut or edited or twisted to provide a perspective that may not be the actual thing that happened on the ground. And so this is why it’s important to have multiple individuals with voices that are using those voices respectively to speak to what’s happening with regard to the movement. So I don’t think we have a distinct leader, but we do have multiple individuals out here on the ground working in Chicago alone. There’s numerous people fighting for justice and pushing for equity but not one singular force that’s out there. And I think that that’s going to be helpful to sustain the movement so that it doesn’t become a moment.

Lyn Lumpkin (00:39:49):

Absolutely. Definitely. So what are the qualities that we should look for in the leader who is truly working towards advancing King’s dream? And this is for everyone on the panel.

Angela Lang (00:40:11):

I can start. I think what’s really important is to making sure that our leaders are centering the most directly impacted. And that means those closest to the problems and the pain, or closest to the solutions. And I’ve been in so many spaces and rooms where people like to think and figure out and pretend that they know what is happening in our community without actually asking the people and having those folks be at the table themselves in decision-making power. And I think that’s important. I think a lot of times, again, sometimes it’s the white saviors that are trying to say, “Oh, I think I know what’s best for the Black community. Oh, you know, we’re some high-paid consultants. We think we know what messages resonate the most in that community.” But how are we centering the lived experiences of people of the same issues that we’re trying to solve? And that is, I think, very critical. 

I think the other thing that is important, and something that I’ve been wrestling with since I’ve stepped into this role as executive director, because it can tend to be very forward facing, is that you’ve got to be able to speak truth to power and be able to say that, and to say what needs to be said, even if it’s isolating, even if it’s lonely, even if it’s uncomfortable, even if it’s not politically wise for you. Being able to unapologetically denounce white supremacy on the floor of the House, but in knowing that you’re getting booed, as Representative Cori Bush just saw the other day. That’s terrifying. There’s threats on organizers’ lives, myself included. I felt very threatened in 2020, given the work that I do. And how are we finding ways to be in community and have our community hold ourselves so we can stay safe in order to do the work? But also knowing that—something that my mom taught me is that sometimes when you say things, it’s going to piss people off, but if it’s right and it’s in your heart and it’s morally just, you got to say it, and you may lose friends over it, you know. You can’t kind of fall into some of those dynamics of egos. I’ve seen so many sparks of a movement be extinguished because egos have gotten in the way. And so how are you able to lead from a place of privilege and understanding it is a privilege to be a forward-facing leader, but still making sure that you’re directly centering directly impacted people. I, myself, a member of the Black community, I often have to pass the mic knowing that there are times where I am privileged as a leader and knowing that I don’t need to be in front of the camera all the time. And so I think it’s important to have all of those different dynamics and being able to be surrounded by people who are going to be able to gut-check you every time you feel like you’re wavering a little bit.

Lyn Lumpkin (00:43:05):

Okay. Anyone else have something to say about advancing King’s dream?

Jeff Beckham, Jr. (00:43:12):

Yeah, I mean, when we look at the qualities of Martin Luther King, there’s actually a really good book—Donald T. Phillips’ King on Leadership that explores the specific leadership qualities that Dr. King had that made him very successful. You know, just adding on, I think humility in this moment, right? Not leading with ego, but actually leading with humility is important. Of course, I think we’ve already heard being able to be led by the mission, the voice of the mission, and the people, putting people first. 

I think there’s also a need in this moment to lead with integrity. I think a lot of us, especially as nonprofit leaders, have to make decisions all the time on who we will take funding from and who we won’t. And that’s tough in this environment. You’re talking about a global pandemic where, you know, I’ve seen statistics that 2,900 plus non-profit organizations will close before the end of 2021, right? And that we’ve lost over a thousand already just through the pandemic year, last year. Those numbers are staggering, and those numbers are scary, but that doesn’t mean that you can sacrifice or give up on what you know to be right. And I think that one of the things Dr. King taught us through his leadership is that integrity really matters. And so, you might have to have those courageous conversations, and sometimes the strongest thing you can say, and make it a full complete sentence, is “No.” And I think that understanding the power you have in that is really important in this season.

Lyn Lumpkin (00:44:42):

Absolutely. Anyone else have anything to say about advancing King’s dream? All right, so our next question is directed towards Angela. Dr. King had a dream of—and it was a lot of things involved in that dream—but you can’t have a dream without action, if you don’t try to put things into play. So what actions can we take to advance King’s dream? You know, what are some of the things we can do to make sure it happens?

Angela Lang (00:45:20):

Yeah. I think it's important to have tough and courageous conversations. I think all of this starts with education. I think people being able to understand and empathize with people that they aren't used to empathizing with. And what I mean by that is not empathizing with white supremacists but the other way around and having people see our humanity. But I'm also a firm believer, I'm not going to beg for my humanity. I'm not going to be friends with everybody that doesn't see the value in my own life. And ultimately, at the end of the day, I want to be in community with people and to do this work that see it as a collective mission towards collective liberation and how our liberations are tied together. And I think that that comes with having really tough conversations. Even in within movements, there's tensions, there's points of tension that people have to hold and to wrestle and able to continue to move forward collectively. 

We're seeing them play out a little bit today, with this—Do you divest from the police or do you flat out defund? That's a point of tension. But ultimately, it's leading people to reimagine safety without having police department the way it's structured, the way it is today, and all of that comes down to being in deep community, being in deep relationship, but also being able to educate folks. I think there's a lot of times that we can become super academic and then we leave people behind because our thinking and our theories are not accessible to people, and we look down on them because they don't share our same analysis. And so how are we bringing people along? How are we making information accessible, and people understand the different pathways to make their voices heard, whether it's politically or socially or through advocacy. And so, I think there's a lot of different educational aspects. For me, I'm a huge fan of leadership development and growth and trainings and making sure that people understand the different levers of power, understanding the agency that people have within themselves to make a change as well.

Lyn Lumpkin (00:47:27):

Great. Anyone else have anything to add to Angela with advancing with action for King's dream?

Celisia Stanton (00:47:37):

I can add a little bit too. I think everything that Angela said was really awesome, so spot on, and I totally agree. And I think too, one of the things that I think about a lot is how moving forward, it requires so much imagination, right? Because we have to completely re-envision a society which does not exist yet. And I think that's what's really hard for folks is, literally from the moment you're born, you are like being sent messages and communication just from the world. Like every conversation you have, all the things you view, just like all of that is essentially programming in terms of the way that you see the world, the way that you think things ought to be. And it's really compelling. It's very difficult to deprogram that, to work against that, to think of anything different. And so, one thing that I really like about working with students, and kids, is that they have so much imagination still. It hasn't been sort of beat out of them by years of feeling like what's not possible, like feeling like nothing is possible. 

So I think being able to think like, could this be different? What would it look like if it was different? What are the values that I want to see embodied in a future that is truly liberated for everybody? I feel like that's so crucial. And I think people are really scared to do that, because part of it is people want answers right now, and I think that's one of the difficulties, as we are coming up with different solutions, not everything is going to work. Some things are going to be less than ideal and we’ll have to be able to try different solutions, but the problem is that if we are not even open to that possibility to do try it and see what works, to see what could be possible, we're kind of dead on arrival. And I think ultimately, part of that is embodying accountability for ourselves and for other people. Like how are we holding ourselves accountable for the values that we believe in, that we say that we stand by in the real world? 

And I know education is so foundational. I believe in it so deeply. I think that that's the start of things because people can't take action on things they don't truly understand and don't know about. But I think where we get caught up sometimes, especially right now, and especially at least in my community, is, education is happening, people are learning things, and then it's not being followed up with action. And I think that's one of the drawbacks, especially as much as technology and social media is an incredible tool that allows us to disseminate information immediately, its biggest hindrance is it allows you to sit behind your computer, consume, consume, consume, and never actually put that back into the world with any kind of tangible action that backs up those things that you've learned. So, those are the biggest things for me. Imagination, accountability, and action, that I think is so important to working towards that dream.

Lyn Lumpkin (00:50:33):

Absolutely. Okay.

Virginia Knox (00:50:36):

Lyn, just to add a few…, and I agree with both of what was just said, but also I'd like to add from the college point of view. I was asked this question once before, you know, and as I said, I started back in ’81, and we've come a long way as a college—or university, I should add. I have to get used to saying that. We now have a director of diversity, which 40 some years ago, we didn't have that. And over the years, we've had workshops and seminars and presentations and discussions on what can we do to involve equality and working toward that dream or achieving that dream with our students and also with coworkers and so forth. So that's where I see us as a university, that we've come a long way. We’re still working. We will get there, but it takes all of us, as I mentioned before, everyone, your community, yourselves, family members all have to work toward reaching that dream.

Lyn Lumpkin (00:51:51):

Absolutely. Dr. King lived and died serving his community, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day has been termed a national day of service. How would you recommend that we spend MLK Day, Celisia?

Celisia Stanton (00:52:15):

I think that that's sort of a personal question in that it really depends on who you are. What communities do you occupy? What things are tangibly pushing things forward for you? For some folks, just spending the time actually hearing from other people, learning, reflecting, that's a really important thing that needs to be done. For some folks, that means literally going out in the community, engaging in mutual aid, helping folks who are living literally physically alongside them in their neighborhoods. For some folks who might be parents, they might be having conversations with kids about things that are happening in the world, or teachers too who also are up against that. It's like, how do you talk to young people about the events of the world? Like the the Capitol insurrection a few days ago. 

So I think it really depends on who you are, but most fundamentally, I feel like it's that intentionality. It's like, of knowing, where am I at? What do I need to do? Am I thinking about actually spending this day in an intentional way? Because I think for a lot of people, it's like, okay, yes, this day, it comes and passes. It's just, it marks this thing that happened a long time ago. And it doesn't make it real. It doesn't make it present like, you know, Martin Luther King, it's not like he was alive and doing all his work so long ago. This was very recently. So I think really bringing it to the present, like, how do these systems still exist today? And what can I do in dismantling that and being intentional in dismantling that? I think anything that does that is a useful way to spend the day.

Lyn Lumpkin (00:54:01):

Okay. Anyone else on the panel has something to say in regards to how we should spend MLK Day?

Jeff Beckham, Jr. (00:54:09):

Yeah, I do. I completely agree, I think first it just depends on you, but I want to speak to my non-Black brothers and sisters in the room that are asking a question, like, what can they do to take part in the day? I hope that in this season right now, that they are really leaning into the term of what it means to be an ally. And I say ally from a word of using your power to help marginalized communities without doing it in a way that's performative, right? And so what we want do is make sure that on MLK day, you're not practicing performative allyship. And so to give you an example of that, effectively, just think of it as like you're doing something and so you could post it on social to get that pat on the back, right? We need to kill that. 

And so if you're out there trying to figure out how you can be part of the movement, there are suggestions already made. First you can do it with your wallet. Make a donation to an organization that's doing the work, and don't seek kudos for that. You can do it by informing yourself. So lean into a concept and explore, maybe even dive into your own bias, you know, and understand where that lives. We all have it. And so by exploring that, that's a way by which you can inform and enhance yourself on that day. 

And I think thirdly, speak to or reach out in a sincere way to those that are really in the work, right? It's okay to not be okay. And it's also okay to check on those friends and family and loved ones you have around you who might be affected by the things that are happening. And those are just simple ways by which if you really want to be an ally, you can start to practice that. There's more out there, you can read about it. There's so many articles out there on it. But I think that as we think about the day, allyship was so keen to the movement that Dr. King created and led in his life. And I want to make sure that we honor that by practicing that well in this moment.

Lyn Lumpkin (00:56:05):

Wonderful. Anybody else?

Virginia Knox (00:56:07):

Yeah, to add to that, just be a good person. <laugh> You know, offer a helping hand when you see someone in need and, you know, just be there. And you don't always have to have money, but you can yes, be you, be a good person, be a good individual, and care for others and look out for others. So that's my added portion to that.

Lyn Lumpkin (00:56:39):

All right. So I want to thank all of the panelists here today. I really appreciate you guys being online with us and sharing your thoughts. How can those of us who are here today support your work, your organization, and you personally? Let's start with Angela.

Angela Lang (00:57:03):

Yeah. I always give folks three different ways to connect with our work. One, I'd be a bad executive director if I didn't make a fundraising pitch, because the movement’s got to be funded. We like to pay people for their labor these days. So, you can go to our website, blocbybloc.org, and you can learn more about us. You can feel free to send us an email through our website if you'd like to learn more. 

Two, if you don't have money, I understand. We're in a pandemic, and times are hard. If you know people either doing similar work or people that you think that we should be connected to, we love to be able to make those connections, whether locally or with other folks across the country. And then acknowledging not everybody has a network, but something that everyone can do is share and amplify the lived experiences of communities of color, specifically Black folks in this moment. There's a lot of information flying, there's a lot of conversations happening, and we need to make sure that we're amplifying and centering the lived experiences of those that are doing the work.

Lyn Lumpkin (00:58:05):

Okay. Also, if you guys have a website, type it in the chat so that we can, you know, get that information out to everyone. Jeff, how can we support you and what you're doing in the community today?

Jeff Beckham, Jr. (00:58:22):

Yeah. Obviously again, as Angela said, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the opportunity to support Chicago Scholars. Our website, chicagoscholars.org, can help you find out all the information you need. Our student application’s open right now, so if you know high school juniors in the city of Chicago that need college access, support, need help getting in college, and then through college, please have them apply. Our mentor application’s open as well. And this year, we'll have an opportunity for folks to mentor virtually. And so, that's a few hours a month over the course of a year to help students who are in that senior year of high school figure out how to get into school and what that looks like after. And so, we are always looking for people to support in those manners. 

Beyond that, obviously, I'm also an artist, so the art behind me is something that I created. It was funny. It's interesting we're talking about this moment in time with the Ruby Bridges piece here. As you know, thinking like Angela said, that wasn't that long ago. You know, this was November 14th, 1960, that six-year-old Ruby Bridges desegregated a school in Louisiana. And so, it's not that far back that these things were occurring. And we have come a long way, but we have a long way to go. And so, if you want to see the art, support the art, I donate a ton of art to kids and schools and nonprofits across the country. You can check me out, artbyjeffbeckham.com.

Lyn Lumpkin (00:59:41):

Thank you. Celisia, how can we support you and your cause?

Celisia Stanton (00:59:47):

I just put some stuff I'll chat about in the chat, but mainly, you can connect with me on Instagram. That's where I do most of the work that I do around education, racial justice education, all of that. And it's just my name, @celisiastanton. As I mentioned, I'm also a photographer, so @celisiastantonphoto is my photography page. But for those of you who are interested in engaging in the dialogue like this a lot more, I do a lot of that on Instagram. And then I have my website, which is just my name, celisiastanton.com. The debate camp that I direct is Minnesota Debate Institute, and that can be found online at minnesotadebateinstitute.org. 

Nothing that I'm part of is currently doing any fundraising, but I would encourage folks who are looking to donate money today, obviously, the other panelists have some awesome organizations. And then additionally, you know, I always like to say, go on GoFundMe and like, actually find somebody in your community who is raising funds for something, whether it be housing or education or whatever, literally, whatever it is. I think so much of this work is engaging with folks in our community, like the people we are living alongside. So I always like to plug that because I think that there's so many folks out there who need support, and we can join in with that.

Lyn Lumpkin (01:01:11):

Wonderful. And our very own Miss Virginia Knox. How can we support you in the work that you're doing? Is she there? Where’d she go? Oh, okay.

Virginia Knox (01:01:27):

Yeah. Virginia.knox@rasmussenbusinesscollege. I've been here for 40 years, but I don't plan on being another 40, but I’ll hang around as long as I can.

Lyn Lumpkin (01:01:41):

Wonderful. All right, well, like I said before, thank you everyone for your input today. I am going to turn this over to Dr. Andy Binanti. I hope I pronounced your name correctly. <laugh>.

Andy Binanti (01:01:59):

Well, thank you so much. And again, everyone, thank you for attending. What a powerful dialogue we've had so far. Like Lyn said, my name's Dr. Andy Binanti. I'm one of the vice chairs for the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council. And at this time, we'd like to continue the conversation and move into the question/answer section for today's meeting. I would say just feel free to raise your hand, and we can unmute you, or you can pose your question in the chat. We already have a couple of really great questions that I'd like to pose to the panelists. Some of the components have already been answered, but I'm going to ask them. First question: Do you have any suggestions on how a Caucasian male can better educate their family who struggles with these concepts?

Jeff Beckhma Jr. (01:02:49):

Yeah, so that's an interesting question. And first, thank you for asking it. I think that there are numerous ways by which you can find information, whether it is doing it through like a book club. I've had friends ask me to come in and like do a book club with their families, which has been really interesting. We did the book White Fragility recently. And I also did, Why Do All the Black Kids Sit Alone in the Cafeteria? Both excellent books to really understand both from a perspective of race and what has happened in our country, but also like the impacts and direct impacts it’s had, with regard to the second book, on education. And so I think reading is really key. Reaching out to a friend and folks that you feel comfortable with to ask questions. It's okay to ask questions. These conversations oftentimes aren't had. 

And I think that the courageous opportunity that presents itself is to have talks and discussions on race. We need to do more of it. There's lots of video things that you can watch, like 13th and what is happening with regard to the prison industrial complex and why this has occurred. A great, great, great video reference to sit and watch and then have open dialogue and discussion, but just to create a safe space for that dialogue. Like being open to the questions that are asked and being honest, asking for honesty in the moment. Because sometimes, you can unpack things that you need to really spend time having discussion around and make sure that you're diving into, so that you don't leave those things open. And in all things, having space to talk and honesty is going to be the best way to lean into it. But then couple that with research and data, and there’s so much out there, and I can provide a list if you like for the students.

Andy Binanti (01:04:47):

Thank you so much. Does any of the other panelists have anything to add? All right, then I will move on to the next question. Next question says, can you speak to the role that faculty in the university must play to end systematic racism and to prevent more violence like that highlighted in 2020?

MaNesha Stiff (01:05:24):

Andy, can you repeat that question for me please?

Andy Binanti (01:05:28):

I sure can. The question is, can you speak to the role that faculty in a university must play to end systemic racism and to prevent more violence like that highlighted in 2020?

MaNesha Stiff (01:05:48):

Any of our panelists want to take that question? If not, I can certainly take it. Okay. I can definitely take that question. The first thing that we definitely want to do is to acknowledge and to admit and to have honest conversations that systemic racism and violence happens. And our students, whether or not we know it or want to admit it, they are experiencing these things in their communities. And so if we don't provide a safe space, I know we talk about, we've talked about the tools to keep the conversation going, to have the conversation, but the space needs to be safe for our students to be able to do that. And so if we aren't creating those safe spaces, then we definitely won't get as far as I truly believe we can in turning things around. So again, just showing up, showing our students that we do care about their experiences inside and outside of the classroom goes very far.

Andy Binanti (01:07:09):

Thank you so much, MaNesha. So another question here. Any thoughts on how to change the negative connotation that have been associated with the Black Lives Matter movement?

Celisia Stanton (01:07:25):

I can say something to this question. I think, so, working with high schoolers especially, so much of what they think and say—well, so much of their worldview they're developing, most of what they think to that point is usually what their parents have said or conversations that they’ve overheard. And so sometimes, I'll interact with students who are open to the possibility that things could be different than what they know. Maybe they're kind of open to that, but mostly, they have some ingrained beliefs. And sometimes those ingrained beliefs are things like, you know, Black Lives Matter isn't a good movement or whatever else it might be. And one of the ways that I counter that I think at least works with young people I've worked with is inquisitiveness, like literally asking them to explain why they think the things they do. And just like asking open questions like, “Oh, why do you think that?” Or “Why does that make sense?” And so often what happens as they're sort of explaining this is there's logical inconsistency, is that once you vocalize out loud, you start to think, “Oh, that doesn't actually sound quite right.” 

And you know, it doesn't always change people's perception or perspective right in that moment, but the seed that's planted and you got to hope that then there are other seeds that kind of shift the needle or push things forward. I think that this can be really frustrating because obviously, it feels totally unfair that a movement that is completely about liberation for people and justice and equality would have any negative connotation. I think that's just the results of the hugely polarized world that we live in and just the strength of white supremacy and the systems that that exist. So I think as much as possible, it's for folks who can be moved, young people or people who are open minded, people who are willing to engage in those conversations. We can have those conversations and try to do that, but then I think to some extent, there's some times when folks' opinions can't be changed. And I sometimes feel like in those instances, it may be better to channel our energy and “Okay, how are we going to do what we need to do to take care of our community? What are we going to do to make sure that we're taking care of ourselves?” Versus constantly trying to convince people who maybe aren't willing to be open to the possibility that we should all be invested in liberation for all people.

Andy Binanti (01:09:56):

Great. Thank you so much. Lots of questions coming through, so keep them coming. Next question says, “In what ways do well-meaning white educators cause harm to students of color?” And that's a great question.

Jeff Beckham, Jr. (01:10:16):

That's a big question, and I think that there's no single set answer for that. There's actually a good book by Dr. Chris Emden around reality pedagogy. It's for white teachers who want to teach in the hood. I can't remember the full title, but it is excellent at diving into this topic, and it looks at all of the many ways by which a teacher, a white teacher, can cause harm to Black students by not recognizing and understanding their unique identity. And I think at the core of it, the crux of it, the foundation, it's recognizing that your Black students that you're working with, you’re teaching and instructing, have a unique identity, and valuing that and then trying to dive into understand what each of the students are there. Black is not monolithic, right? I went to white Catholic schools in the suburbs of the Chicago area, right? And the way I was raised and brought up was a lot different than my cousins and family who lived in Inglewood and Auburn Gresham, right? 

And so that means that our shared experience inside a classroom and how we show up in a classroom probably was and was very much different. I was very quiet, very cerebral. My cousins were a little louder. That doesn't mean that one was better than the other, but if you approached us both with the same pedagogy or response to instruction and learning, you would miss an opportunity, right? And so I think diving in and understanding your individual and unique students and the experiences that they have is being unique is one way to go about that, but I'm going to go back to,continue to educate and push yourself. There are numerous opportunities and books out there. I've seen so many sessions online, on Zoom, over the past few months on how to impact and improve your standing as a teacher, a white teacher, inside of a Black classroom. And so I think leveraging those is another way. But you know, again, it just starts with people. And I think Miss Virginia said it earlier really well, you know, that good person thing. Like if it feels wrong, it probably is. If it feels off, it probably is. If it feels uncomfortable to you, it's probably making your students uncomfortable. I think recognizing that and acknowledging that is just is the way to start.

Andy Binanti (01:12:32):

Thank you so much. I think we're going to answer one last question, and then any remaining questions we can continue to work with the panelists to get those answered later today. Last question: “How can we reframe the narrative regarding police to not alienate those officers who are working so hard to effect change? Seems anytime we lump a demographic together, it creates a counterproductive divide.” Panelists?

Angela Lang (01:13:06):

I can take this one because it's a lot of the work that we do at BLOC. I think what's really important is to really not talk about it as from the standpoint of individual police officers, but the institution itself and the history of the institution of policing. The reason we have sheriffs is because it was started as a way of slave-catching, and that institution is rooted in that and it's just evolved. It never, you know, ended in saying, you know, this is a really terrible history in policing. We need to start completely over and reimagine. So when you have a foundation of policing that is rooted in white supremacy, you have to talk about the institution as a whole. And so even when people joke on, on social media, “Oh, men are trash” people don't say that as a way to, you know, to talk about men individually. I think people know that, but I think people need to talk about the specific ways that people cause harm and how people within that institution perpetuate white supremacy or the patriarchy. And so I think we need to get out of that mindset of, “Oh, well not all cops are bad.” The institution in and of itself is bad and needs to be dismantled and reworked and reframed. And so when we're having these conversations, the reason that they get so tense is because we think about it and we take it so personally as individuals. And that's how you know that people are stretching and growing is because they are feeling when we say we want to reimagine safety, or Black lives matter, that they need to come with a counter because there's something else that they feel is being taken away from them. When really it is not personal, it's about the institution itself. But that backlash goes to show it's proving the point of what is wrong with that institution.

Andy Binanti (01:14:55):

Great. Thank you so much. Any other panelists want to add anything to that question?

Virginia Knox (01:15:03):

Hi Andy, not to that question, but the previous one where you had asked about white instructors, and I stated before, I came through a segregated school system, and when we think back to when the schools were actually integrated, white instructors or teachers could not relate to Black students, which is a little different, which is different than today because we have a number of different people in our classrooms. And so we are being trained and taught more and we learn more and we work with people so we can understand, you know, a Black student, a white student, a student who might be Muslim. I think back to Jeff mentioned Ruby Bridges, and one of the things that she mentioned when she was integrating that school in Louisiana, she didn't actually have an instructor from that school that she was integrated in. They brought in a teacher from, I believe, Philadelphia, who had worked with minority students. And so, that teacher was the one who actually was brought in to work with her because she understood minority students, she understood what she had to do and how she could approach and continue her learning. So I just wanted to add that part to it.

Andy Binanti (01:16:26):

Thank you so much. At this time, I think this is going to conclude our section for question and answers. I do think that we got to most of them. I believe there was only one unanswered. And again, we'll work with the panelists to get that answer back to the participant. At this time, I am going to turn it over to Dr. Stiff, so she could talk a little bit about upcoming events for our council.

MaNesha Stiff (01:16:54):

Thank you, Andy, so much. And thank you all for joining us today as we again celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. King. I want to also thank our panelists. You all have enlightened us. I have learned quite a bit from you all. And just thank you so much for being here with us as we celebrate this day. I'd like to thank the DEI Council, especially the leadership committee, Iman, Andy, Hughes, Stella. Thank you all so much for just helping to plan this. And of course, I would be remiss if I did not especially thank Lyn for agreeing to moderate today. And thank you to the executive leadership team for just supporting us as we brought forth this effort to celebrate the life of Dr. King. 

Again, MLK Day is about action. A lot of people see it as a day off, but it really is a day on. You really should be doing something to commemorate the life of Dr. King. He did so much in the short time that he was here. He's continued to inspire generation after generation after generation. So you really should be doing something to connect to the spirit of Dr. King. And so, if you don't have something in mind or if you don't have something planned, the King Center actually has a whole week of events that are happening virtually, and their theme is the urgency of creating the beloved community, which is something that Dr. King has said. And so, please log on to thekingcenter.org to look at their calendar of events. There is something for everyone. There's a storytelling time for kids. There is just something for everyone to participate in. There's actually a service that will happen, I believe on Monday, where the Reverend Dr. T.D. Jakes will host that. So that should be awesome as well. So look into those activities on thekingcenter.org. And at this time, I will turn it over to our current chair of the DEI council, Hughes Wamba.

Hugues Wamba (01:19:32):

Hello, everyone. My name is Hughes Wamba. I'm the DEI council chair for 2021. I'm very excited to kick off this year’s council events and looking forward to all the conversation we'll have throughout the year with everyone. I would like to take this opportunity to share with everyone our upcoming events for the next few months. We'll have in February. February is actually the Black History Month. The national theme for this year is the Black family: Representation, identity and diversity. And in March, it will be the Women's History Month. I want to thank here the folks that actually volunteer to help us plan these events and also thank the council and everyone else. Last, but not least, I would like to thank everyone on behalf of the council for taking the time to join us today for this awesome event. Have a wonderful day.

Event Calendar

Upcoming Events

Pride Month Series

June 15, 2022 at 2:00 PM

Celebrate Pride Month with Rasmussen University. Join us for our second Pride Month virtual event featuring a moderated discussion on Allyship & Promoting a Safe Learning Community on June 15 at 2:00 PM (Central).

Summer Book Club

July 01, 2022

Rasmussen University faculty and staff are invited to join the Rasmussen DEI Council and participate in this year’s Summer Book Club! The evocative and riveting novel, We Are Not Like Them, will be sure to spark relevant discussions that relate to the mission of the DEI Council.

Check back soon for more events!

Past Events

Pride Month Series

June 08, 2022 at 2:00 PM

Rasmussen University celebrated Pride month by hosting a series of virtual events. The first event featured Marshall Turner, Director of Operations for The Center Orlando, who gave a timely presentation about Gender Identity.

Autism Acceptance Month Lunch and Learn

April 20, 2022

The Rasmussen University DEI Council hosted an Autism Acceptance Month Lunch and Learn, featuring guest speaker John Mindiola. John is the department chair for the School of Design and General Education at Rasmussen. He shared his personal story of his life with an autistic son, as well as helped attendees learn how to continue to build an inclusive community where people with autism are embraced and supported to achieve their best life.

Dr. Martin Luther King Junior Day

January 14, 2022

The DEI Council hosted a panel discussion featuring community leaders who talked about what it means to be a member of a beloved community.

Our DEI Leaders

MaNesha Stiff, PhD

Dr. MaNesha Stiff currently serves as the director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Rasmussen University. In addition to this role, Dr. Stiff is the principal DEI consultant at Metanoia Solutions Consulting, LLC and is president of the Illinois chapter of the Association of Black Women in Higher Education (ABWHE). She holds many credentials, including a Master’s degree of Management in Higher Education Administration from North Park University and a PhD in Higher Education Leadership from Capella University.

In her spare time, Dr. Stiff enjoys spending time with her family, making her friends laugh uncontrollably and playing with her Yorkie (Honeychild) and schnauzer (Velvet). She also enjoys working with her mentoring group “NE.R.DY (No Exceptions. Represent. Do You.) Brown Girls.”

DEI Council Leadership

With over 70 members, this council is focused on institutional DEI training and critical conversations as well as DEI-related holidays, recognition and awareness.

Hugues Wamba, BS


Andy Binanti, EdD

Co-Vice Chair

Iman Johnson, MBA/MSPM

Co-Vice Chair

DEI Steering Committee

This committee is responsible for strategic planning, decision making and accountability regarding DEI initiatives at Rasmussen University.

Carrie Daninhirsch, MA

Vice President of Academic Affairs

Joshua Collier, JD

Director of Legal Compliance

Brooks Doherty, EdD

Assistant Vice President of Academic Innovation

Dale Leatherwood, MBA

Vice President of Marketing and Product Strategy

Audrey Posocco

Associate Vice President of Talent Acquisition and Operations

Eric Whitehouse, MPA

Vice President of Campus Operations and Student Services

Statements to the Community

As an institution of higher education, it’s important that we speak out on events that affect our students, faculty and community. To cultivate a space where people feel safe to express themselves, we are dedicated to getting the conversation started.

Statement on Chauvin Verdict
Statement on George Floyd

Share Your Thoughts

Diversity, equity and inclusion are big ideas, but ultimately, they start with people—like you.

So, if you have any suggestions about how we can celebrate a cultural milestone, have feedback about one of our initiatives or just want to share your thoughts, let us know here!

  1. This figure represents data that was volunteered by active and "temporary out" students during the application process between August 2016 and October 2021. A first-generation student is defined by neither parent having attended a postsecondary institution.
  2. This survey was conducted by Rasmussen University in November 2020.
  3. Rasmussen University Current Enrollment Demographics, March 2021
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