MURRAY, Ky. — On Friday, Oct. 13, students, faculty and staff at Murray State University gathered for a presentation from Dr. Damon Williams about diversity, equity and inclusion in an event sponsored by Murray State’s Office of the President and Office of Multicultural Affairs.
For the past two years, Williams, who is widely considered one of the nation’s most dynamic and innovative leaders, has been on an Inclusive Excellence Tour, working to empower 1 million leaders and 5,000 institutions, ranging from universities to corporations, on how to lead with diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in mind. During his presentation at Murray State, Williams discussed a number of ideas, such as how to innovate and create change while engaging a broad agenda of diversity without losing sight of unique groups.
“The world we live in today has forever shifted,” Williams said. “These are not matters of convenience. These are matters of strategic importance.”
A central component of Williams’ presentation was the role of innovators on college campuses and in society. Referencing “The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators” by Clayton M. Christenson, Jeffrey H. Dyer and Hal B. Gregersen, Williams discussed how innovators always question the world, find solutions wherever possible, thrive with other innovators, possess a bias toward action and observe the world around them. However, Williams noted, when working to innovate in regard to diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, innovators must also have courage.
“Innovators are always leading with courage when they’re innovating in a diversity, equity and inclusion space,” Williams said. “Courage to look beyond conviction, courage to ask big questions, courage to ask how do we really go that extra mile, how do we stand up, stand out and push a little bit further.”
Throughout his presentation, Williams posed a number of questions to the audience: What does it mean to lead strategically in the 21st century? How do we embrace the realities of new generations coming to campus? And why is there so much talk of change but so few results?
Williams then encouraged the campus community to ask difficult questions and to work together to innovate — breaking glass ceilings and creating spaces for students from underrepresented groups to thrive — while starting conversations and sharing different perspectives.
“It’s one of the reasons why I push and encourage all our students to get those high-impact experiences with diversity inside and outside the classroom, because it will make you better prepared for the world we live in today,” Williams said.
Williams concluded by noting that change is not swift and sudden but that it takes perseverance, focus and innovation to make a genuine and impactful difference.
“The work takes time and commitment. It’s difficult,” Williams said. “The reality is, at most of our institutions, we’re trying to move that pyramid. And it’s going to be something slow and incremental, but you’ve got to lean into it. You have to focus on how to innovate it to move it.”
In addition to speaking with the audience in Freed Curd Auditorium, Williams met with University and city officials, as well as with student, faculty and staff representatives from across the University, to share and discuss strategies of inclusive excellence.
Williams is the former senior vice president for programs, training and youth development for the Boys and Girls Club of America. Previously serving as associate vice chancellor, vice provost and chief diversity officer at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Williams has authored two books, “The Chief Diversity Officer: Strategy, Structure, and Change Management” (2013) and “Strategic Diversity Leadership: Activating Change and Transformation in Higher Education” (2013). He has been honored by the NAACP and has shared his insight into leading diversity, equity and inclusion efforts at more than 300 institutions around the world.