I’m still basking in the joy of connection post-summit. Deep gratitude to all of you who joined us for our Diversifying The HERD 2022 Virtual Summit! As always, in the lead up to these events, I am so focused on the details and tasks that go into creating these spaces that I sometimes forget to embrace the joy that these events bring. In our commitment to challenging our field to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), and create a community of belonging for our HERD members, we are constantly reminded of the hard work required behind the scenes in any organization to transform DEI from acronym to action. Occasionally, I’m also reminded of how important it is to stop grinding, look up, and take in the beauty of what we’ve created. This is one of those moments.
I felt so much joy to be in community with the next generation of leaders in our field. Our keynote speakers, Abriana Johnson and Brittney Chambers, offered a sensational session on how to decolonize equine programs. This dynamic duo are inspirational, thought provoking powerhouses, and I couldn’t be more grateful for their presence.
It was also wonderful to see the familiar faces of our HERD members in the audience, as well as folks who came from outside of our community. Coming together with all our various approaches is the essence of diversity, and I really appreciated the different perspectives you all offered.
We are living in interesting times. The endemic nature of COVID has created so much uncertainty and has taken its toll on many of us working in the helping professions. When my dear friend and colleague, Elizabeth McCorvey, and I first talked about creating a summit that centered on the work and experiences of marginalized folks, our motivation came from constantly seeing a lack of representation in this space. All those conferences and summits that we’d attended where we were often the only people of color, and where speaker line-ups were a sea of white faces. Yet, we knew that there were a ton of practitioners of color, LGBTQ+ folks, and other historically marginalized individuals in the field who are doing some incredible work in their communities. Our hope is that by increasing representation, we can encourage a new generation of practitioners to enter the field and actively increase diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Within The HERD Institute®, I am incredibly proud of our team’s efforts in diversifying our HERD community. Part of our DEI strategy was creating our Commitment of Belonging, that declares proudly and loudly to everyone interested in our programs, the values that we hold as an organization. This commitment is now part of our organizational DNA. Potential students applying to our programs receive this as part of their application process.
We ask them to read and sign this commitment before we even consider their application. Our DEI strategy has also meant that we offer an automatic 20% discount to BIPOC folks, and we’ve offered scholarships to individuals we especially want to support through our programs. While this may seem like a short-term measure, my eye is on the bigger picture in the long term. I see Step 1 as increasing the diversity within our student population. Step 2 is in identifying students who show potential as instructors, so that we can also bring more diversity into our faculty team. This bottom-up approach helps us to identify gaps in our DEI strategy, policies, and practices. Getting feedback from our students is especially important in identifying these gaps. A small shift can make a big difference.
Since implementing our DEI strategy, our student demographics have shifted from being only 9% of black, indigenous, and people of color, and/or openly LGBTQ+ folks to almost 25% in the last 3 years. In one workshop recently, 50% of the cohort were people of color and/or openly LGBTQ+. This significant increase represents the undeniable impact of centering diversity, equity, and inclusion in our enrollment strategy, and is a step towards honoring our vision of making our trainings accessible to those who are historically under-served. By offering a safer and more inclusive experience for folks who have traditionally felt unwelcomed into this space, we can support practitioners to serve their communities from within their cultural contexts. This is what it means to turn DEI from an acronym into action. These are the themes that we explored during the summit.
If you were unable to attend the summit on the day, and this has piqued your interest, please go to our summit website, and join us in community. The summit is now available to purchase with lifetime access so you can take your time to digest the materials. Watch how our presenters and panelists navigated difficult conversations, created opportunities for connection, and ask important questions about what comes next.
To all our presenters, panelists, attendees, and all of you who are committed to doing this hard work – thank you for being part of the journey with The HERD, and I look forward to our continued connections!