The Clarke University community gathered virtually on August 18 and 19 for the CU Faculty and Staff Virtual Conference. In the past, this annual conference was largely intended for new and returning faculty members. This year, it was expanded to be a professional development opportunity for all employees. Although the conference was remote, hundreds of employees participated.
The opening session began with a prayer reciting Clarke’s mission and honoring our BVM Foundresses, Mary Frances Clarke, Eliza Kelly, Margaret Mann, Rose O’Toole, and Catherine Byrne. The powerful morning prayer was communicated by five employees in their native languages. The entire community then recited, “Loving sisters, faithful women, be with us.”
Susan Burns, Vice President for Academic Affairs, continued the tradition of informing the crowd of current events that took place in 2002, the year that the incoming freshmen students were born. These students have never known life without Spongebob Squarepants, books have always been read to them on audible.com, and Bluetooth has always been keeping them wireless and synchronized. The incoming class is comprised of 48 percent women and 52 percent men. Burns concluded her comments with the following words of encouragement, “Have courage and be kind, and difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations.”
President Thom Chesney continued with a keynote address that evoked the theme of “Be brave; Show your confidence; and You’ll get it.” His message was filled with pride for the Clarke community, and he acknowledged many individuals and groups for their efforts during this pandemic. He praised the Clarke community’s ability to adjust, shift, and persevere this year.
Following Chesney’s remarks, several topics were covered including a CareerPLUS program overview and a review of Clarke’s general education program, Compass. Afternoon breakout sessions included programs focused on “Teaching Academic Honesty” and “Pathways for Meeting Learners Where They Need Us”.
Day two featured a keynote address by Jacqueline Battlora, Ph.D. Her passionate address titled, “Understanding and Dismantling Privilege” described the complexities of what it means to be white within a nation that imposed whiteness as a matter of founding law. With skill and abundant detail, she guided participants through history and how the society we confront today came to be. Her historical approach helped to remove potential defensiveness by positioning white participants to be motivated for transformation by gaining the confidence to be more open, mindful, and understanding.
Day two also involved discussing many facets of diversity and equity; employees heard meaningful stories from some of our ethnically diverse Clarke community members. Discussions took place on topics such as Clarke’s plan in moving forward, core values, mental health conversations, and academic integrity.
Chesney offered a closing breakout session each day called, “Then Along Came COVID” where he shared stories and perspectives on how the Clarke community has carefully responded to this pandemic. In Chesney’s words, “It was at times exhausting, depressing, and infuriating; at others, exhilarating, optimistic, and affirming.”