Stepping into Diversity program holds first annual conference

The year-long, student leadership program Stepping into Diversity culminated on Sunday, April 7, with a conference dedicated to empowering students to lead in a diverse and global world.

“This conference was intended to provide students with a space to gather and interact with each other and talk about the important issues of diversity, inclusion, and social justice,” said Diana Suarez, program coordinator of Stepping into Diversity. “We wanted students not only to increase their knowledge but also get comfortable talking to each other about these topics and realizing that they can learn so much just from talking to each other and listening to others unique lived experiences.”

The Stepping into Diversity Conference featured two keynote speakers:

  • Stacey Pearson-Wharton, dean of health and wellness and director of the Counseling Center at Susquehanna University, who gave an address titled “When Intent Doesn’t Equal Impact: Healing Relationships in the Wake Of Offense”
  • Suzette Walden Cole, a professional speaker and consultant and former director of student conduct and conflict resolution at Illinois State University, who presented “New Leaders Of Tomorrow: Cultural Competency is Ensuring Everyone’s Asked to Dance”

Other special guests at the conference included Art Force 5, a collective that uses the accessibility of art and the popularity of superheroes to explore issues of equality, violence, history, community and empathy. Art Force 5’s contribution to the conference included helping create a mosaic, with small contributions from all attendees, to be displayed on the New Paltz campus.

Additionally, the conference featured nine workshops created and facilitated by the student leaders in the Stepping into Diversity program. All workshops served the conference’s mission to promote healthy conversations about diversity and teach skills for effectively navigating these conversations.

This all added up to a fitting conclusion of the Stepping into Diversity program’s first year of existence. More than 60 students joined the program and took part in a rigorous schedule of cultural events, service experiences and learning opportunities, all focused on helping them become leaders in engendering inclusivity on our campus and in their present and future communities.

“We want students to be exposed to these topics of diversity and inclusion as well as practice facilitating the difficult conversations that come along with them so that they are able to advocate and make change for themselves and others,” Suarez said. “To that end, the conference was a success – we received a lot of positive comments from students about the workshops, and requests that it be repeated again next year.”

The Stepping into Diversity program will continue in the 2019-20 academic year. Those interested in learning more and joining can contact Diana Suarez at

More information about the Stepping into Diversity program is available online.