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University DEI Leaders Discuss Racism, Sexism at UMGC Panel Discussion

Gil Klein
By Gil Klein
Sharon Jackson Wilder, UMGC Vice President and Chief Diversity and Equity Officer.

In conjunction with Women’s History Month, three leaders in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) work at Maryland universities took part in a frank panel discussion sponsored by University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) focused on the racism and sexism Black women face in the current political climate.

“We can’t say what we want to say because of the potential impact,” said Tanyka Barber, vice president for institutional equity and chief diversity officer at University of Maryland Baltimore County. “That’s a huge challenge when you have other folks who freely say whatever they want to say, whether it’s offensive, whether people agree with it or not.”

The virtual panel discussion, entitled Women Who Advocate for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and held on March 21, focused on womanhood, DEI issues in higher education and the work to advance DEI within the University System of Maryland. The lively exchange was moderated by Natasha Rodriguez, UMGC’s director of Multicultural Training and Diversity Programs.  

The panelists—Barber, Towson University’s Patricia Bradley and UMGC’s Sharon Jackson Wilder—said their work embraces all sides of their life, including their Black and female identities.

“I previously defined myself by my race, so I’m hardcore Black power,” Barber said. “That was my core definition of myself from a racial perspective. And it didn’t shift for me until I became a mother and went through that childbearing process and having to care for someone else that I began to look at myself wholly from that womanhood perspective.”

Tanyka Barber, UMBC Vice President for Institutional Equity and Chief Diversity Officer.

Bradley, the vice president of the Office of Inclusion and Institutional Equity at Towson University, said the current attacks on diversity, equity and inclusion are “the new Jim Crow,” referring to racial barriers that grew out of the backlash following gains for Black people after the Civil War.

“The reason that we have the current DEI initiatives is because of our country’s failure at integration,” she said. “We failed miserably, and so now we’re addressing those failures through these programs. You can change the terms as much as you want. You can change the definitions as much as you want. The power struggle will always be there. And it will be up to us to teach others what that power struggle has been and the work that needs to be done to overcome it.”

The way to do it is with data-driven research, said Bradley. adding that personal stories of discrimination may be discounted, but data shows the discrimination—and the U.S. demographic trends—that cannot be ignored.

Jackson Wilder, UMGC’s vice president and chief diversity and equity officer, had just returned from a national conference of higher education diversity officers and noted the conversations about state efforts to eliminate DEI roles.

“It is a falsehood, to believe that this country is going in any other direction but becoming more and more diversified,” she said “People are scared of that change, scared of losing something. But this is a big world. There’s a place for all of us.”

Jackson Wilder added that people must be vigilant in opposing legislation in a number of states that eliminates DEI programs. She suggested that laws can last for decades, and that means a generation may suffer the consequences before they can be changed.


Patricia Bradley, Towson University Vice President of the Office of Inclusion and Institutional Equity.

The struggle to promote DEI takes individual passion because it is difficult work, Bradley said. She also noted that lawmakers are trying to do away with positions like the one she holds.

“All of us could be doing something different with our lives,” she said. “We can work in other fields. But we choose to do this. So, as you start your journey, you have to ask yourself, is this something you have a passion for?”

Since it is such emotional work, the people involved in diversity, equity and inclusion efforts also need to look out for their mental health, Barber said.

“We need you on the battlefield of this work, so don’t give up,” she said. “But also give yourself a squad, a support system of people that understand what you’re going through, who you can vent to. You will need that personal support.”

It is also important, Bradley said, to engage the next generation.

“I’m not going to be in this role forever,” she said. “I want to make sure that I bring other women along with me so that they have a seat at the table. That’s my responsibility to ensure that they are not eliminated from those opportunities. I want to be sure I know who’s next.”