DU’s inclusive excellence initiative takes a different approach

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“Fish out of water” – the action of placing oneself in an uncomfortable position which one is unaccustomed to. As part of the University of Denver’s effort to promote inclusive excellence across campus, an event titled, “Fish Out of Water” put on by StoryCorps and the Leadership Academy was held in Renan Theater on May 10 at 4:30 p.m.

As part of Chancellor Chopp’s Impact 2025 initiative, the Leadership Academy is a six-month professional development program for staff and faculty with an emphasis on developing the leader from within. 15 staff and faculty from across DU’s campus were selected to participate in the inaugural Leadership Academy and chose to address the topic of inclusive excellence through storytelling.

As audience members filled the theater ten, previously selected students and faculty were each allotted five minutes to describe an instance in which they felt uncomfortable and out of their element. Each speaker provided the crowd with personal anecdotes and insight regarding their ethnic background along with, sharing an instance in which they were uncomfortable or out of their element.

“We chose the theme: “Fish Out of Water,” because it is something we can all relate to,” Carolyn Sommers of DU’s Leadership Academy said. “No matter our race, ethnicity, gender, ability or any other identity; we can all identify with those times when we felt totally out of element, like an outsider, or in some other unfamiliar and uncomfortable situation. Through our stories, we realize there are more similarities between us than there are differences.”

The audience was completely engrossed with each speaker’s on-stage presence projected outward and illuminated by the sole source of light throughout the dimly, lit theater. Varying accents projected from the stage including; an Scottish accent from Roddy MacInnes, a Chinese accent from Xiaoyi Zhu and a Lebanese accent from Mustapha Jechi.

The topics ranged from first impressions upon arrival in the States, to memories of a close friend, to coming out on campus. A room full of strangers were enlightened on intimate details of the speakers, creating a mutual respect and admiration for the courage projected from the speakers and the acceptance radiated from the audience.

“As a forum for connecting the DU campus, we believe in the power of stories to help cultivate empathy, compassion and understanding within our community,” Sommers said. “More broadly, stories raise our awareness about the human experience, binding us together through our humanity regardless of, and because of, our identity and building bridges that can propel us beyond our isolation and loneliness. When people get on stage and are willing to be vulnerable by sharing their stories, often you will find that new insights and perspectives are gained.”
The inaugural introduction of the event proved successful regarding participants and audience attendance. The goal is to implement additional events in the future, biannually or on a quarterly basis.

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