Creating a More Diverse and Inclusive Conference Experience

diverse hand shake
Published: Monday, January 7, 2019

Many of us in higher education spend a lot of time thinking about how to integrate diversity and inclusion into our daily work. One of the stumbling blocks we encounter is where do we begin?

Many of us in higher education spend a lot of time thinking about how to integrate diversity and inclusion into our daily work. One of the stumbling blocks we encounter is where do we begin? Arguably, diversity and inclusion begins with personal commitment, not expertise. This year, I served as the chair for the Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) subcommittee for the OLC Accelerate Conference. I care a great deal about creating and participating in spaces that are open and welcoming to all, yet felt somewhat under-qualified for this task. I didn’t want to get it “wrong.” A sense that I could misstep in my efforts to encourage inclusivity or that I didn’t feel like an expert gave me pause. But, guided by the expertise and enthusiasm of my fellow D&I subcommittee members and building on the excellent work of the OLC Innovate 2018 D&I subcommittee, we began to envision how to further establish D&I within all aspects of the conference from registration to presentations to networking.

Our Mission

The Diversity and Inclusion committee was charged with encouraging and guiding opportunities for discussion and action around diverse, inclusive and accessible learning environments at the OLC Accelerate conference and beyond. For the purposes of the conference, we broadly defined diversity and inclusion as honoring all individuals for who they are, where they are. With this in mind, we formulated two key questions:

  1. How does a conference with embedded UDL look?
  2. How do we think about diversity and inclusion as a thread that runs through the entire conference?

We began by examining points of intersection in the areas of registration, presenter services, networking opportunities and website information. We considered how the guiding principles of UDL and accessible practices could be intertwined with the resources and programs that were already underway.

During registration, attendees were able to indicate on the form if they were in need of any physical or dietary accommodations, and this was followed up on individually as needed. OLC created a Presenter Services team that assists presenters in delivering engaging presentations. To embed D&I in the presenter resources, we crafted a tip sheet highlighting how to promote inclusive presentations for different session types based on UDL principles and accessibility. Networking opportunities were designed to be at different times throughout the day, consisted of both larger and smaller group formats, and offered structured and informal activities. The D&I website page described the goals and activities of the committee as well as highlighted presentations that were centered on accessibility and UDL.

The Sanctuary

By day, I am an instructional designer. But by night, I am a yoga teacher and self-care junkie. One of the most challenging parts of any conference for me, is the crowds and noise. I am an introvert to the core and being in sessions all day, eating meals with new friends and being in the vendor space just about does me in. In my initial meeting with the OLC Engagement committee chairs, I jokingly brought this up. From that conversation, we realized there was a need to provide space for folks to unplug and refocus from the activity of the conference without having to leave the location. From this, we created the Sanctuary room to be a quiet, reflective space with low lighting, spa music, tea and chocolate, and other items to encourage relaxation. This ended up being a very popular area among attendees and conference volunteers seeking a moment of stillness and respite.

Authored By:

Janet Smith

Janet Smith
Assistant Director, Continuous Improvement