The concepts of diversity and inclusion are essential in an equitable society, but as Chrissy Chard, assistant professor in the Colorado State University Department of Health and Exercise Science and Colorado School of Public Health, has learned, it is not a milestone that can be achieved but rather a goal that we must recommit ourselves to every day.
“It is this constant, ongoing commitment to exploring our own biases and stereotypes and how we might be inadvertently perpetuating them,” Chard expressed in an interview. “That commitment means I have a responsibility to show up in spaces and ask hard questions about who is being left out of the conversation, and who is not at the table.”
Earning both her undergraduate and graduate degrees in the Health and Exercise Science department, Chard works to expand the departments’ outreach efforts to empower young girls through movement with her program Smart Fit Girls, as well as researching how to create culturally responsive programming. A champion for equity, she was recognized with the 2020 CSU Faculty Institute for Inclusive Excellence Diversity Impact Award.
Integrating equity in the classroom
For Chard, there are many opportunities to invite inclusion into education, starting with examining who are considered experts in the classroom. “When it comes to curriculum, some of the things I think about are which authors are being brought into the conversation, and what kinds of media,” said Chard. “Is it all peer reviewed publications, or do I have podcasts, interviews, white papers, are there a diverse set of voices represented?”
Professors can take a step further than the syllabus, Chard expressed, and look at how our interactions and lessons with students convey inclusive principles. “How do I set up the classroom setting?” said Chard. “For example, am I prioritizing inclusive language, starting from the syllabus and carrying through in every communication that I have with students?”
Another great way that professors can promote inclusive mindsets is to invite students to take part in the creation of inclusive environments. Chard creates community agreements with students, something they can reflect on and use to guide them through deeper or tougher topics. “It’s communicating that we value students’ lived experience as a form of knowledge and expertise,” said Chard. “It’s not just the folks who have studied this in a traditional sense, but it is also those who have lived it who are also a form of knowledge and expertise.”
Diversity and inclusion can often feel daunting in formal classroom settings, as it interplays with vulnerability and identity, and it is a topic that may be hard to navigate without making mistakes. However, mistakes should be expected, Chard assures. “I do my best to commit to being willing to highlight when I mess it up. I might be walking back to my office after class and think ‘I didn’t say that right’ or ‘I didn’t clarify what I meant,’ or ‘I didn’t interrupt strongly enough,’” expressed Chard. “My commitment is following up via email and/or the next time in class, spending some time to talk about it and say ‘here is an example of a way I messed up,’ because I think sometimes students view faculty as knowing it all or being the expert and we are just not the experts in all things.”
Introducing equity into a group setting
Whenever you interact in group settings, diversity and inclusion will come into play. Acknowledging the difference between the two, however, is a good place to start. “Something could be diverse without really being inclusive,” Chard emphasized. “Diversity, in some ways, is like the check box, do we have people from different backgrounds and different experiences represented. But inclusion says, do these folks feel valued, do they feel affirmed, do they have decision-making power to better our organization or program.”
Even outside the classroom, it is important to remember that mistakes may happen. “I think we have to cultivate environments where people are able and willing to make mistakes. Doing this work necessarily entails making mistakes,” reminds Chard. “Especially for those of us, I’ll speak for myself, who come from a lot of privilege. That means that I have blind spots because I have not developed the lens that those with lived experiences have.” Being willing to acknowledge these blind spots and admit when we make mistakes is crucial to making a group inclusive. “As a program, how do we create an environment where we are able to challenge and support people, as well as a willingness to make mistakes and try new things?“
Progressing equity at CSU
Diversity and inclusion are at the forefront of CSU’s plans for the future, and Chard is part of the discussion. She wants to make sure that students are part of that ongoing conversation, too. “It’s really important that we keep asking ourselves ‘how are young people involved in decision-making?’ Because ultimately, they are why we’re here,” said Chard. “They are in many ways the ones who are on the receiving end of micro-aggressions, incidents of bias and discrimination. So how then are we centering them in the conversation moving forward?”
Chard is also championing youth voices in the plans for the CSU National Western Center project in Denver. “I’m now working with folks at the CSU System office in Denver to establish a youth action team,” said Chard. “It’s a group of twelve students from Bruce Randolph School from ninth to eleventh grade, and they are engaging with all of the partners who have a stake in the National Western Center, to identify projects where they have decision making power.
For Chard, it’s remembering that her role today is helping build a future for inclusive leaders tomorrow. “Ultimately I think if we can foster and support a whole generation of young people who really think critically about policies and practices, institutional culture, structural bias, and racism, I think then we will be able to move the needle a little bit and get to the root causes so that we can have a significant, long-lasting impact,” said Chard.
Equity in your every day
A diverse and inclusive mindset is important when working in groups or in classrooms, but it is equally as important to exercise that commitment in our daily lives.
“it’s so important to keep doing the inner work and be committed to doing this work in all spaces,” reminds Chard. “I can’t just show up in the classroom – which often is an easier place because I have this assumed power. It’s harder when I’m in a meeting with folks at higher ranks than me, or when I’m having a conversation, say, with my parents. Those are the harder spaces, and those are the ones where we also must be committed to doing the work, and to accept being uncomfortable. This work necessarily means that you will be uncomfortable, and so anybody and everybody can practice feeling a little bit uncomfortable and be willing to mess it up.”
In the end, for Chard, it comes down to two things. “The first one is the ability to listen deeply, then reflect, and then listen even harder – that, I think, is a skill that we all can all work on because so often we listen to respond,” said Chard. “But can we take a step back and listen with the intent to really understand? I think that can go a long way.”
“The last thing is acknowledging and paying people for their work,” emphasized Chard. “Some of the scholars and activists who have really impacted my work include Kimberlé Crenshaw and Audre Lorde, as well as scholars and activists like Rachel Cargle and Layla Saad. I have learned so much from these scholars, and so it’s really important to name them, share their work and pay them for their work because they are the experts.”
CSU Faculty Institute for Inclusive Excellence Diversity Impact Award
For her efforts in diversity, Chard was selected as the winner of the 2020 CSU Faculty Institute for Inclusive Excellence (FiiE) Diversity Impact Award. “Dr. Chard was chosen as the recipient for this year’s FIIE Diversity Impact Award in recognition of her commitment to infuse inclusivity, equity and social justice centrally within her research program, campus and community service, department, and academic discipline,” Ria Vigil, assistant vice president for inclusive organizational practice, wrote in an email.
Vigil noted Chard’s efforts to infuse equity into the Health and Exercise Science curriculum, and her status as a member of the Women’s Studies Faculty Council, and Chair for the Health and Exercise Science Committee for Optimizing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity.