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Diversity is focus at third annual support staff conference

"The people who help faculty teach and students learn are staff," said Susan DeBevoise Wright, Executive Director of the Montgomery Endowment and wife of Dartmouth President James Wright, at the third annual Support Staff Conference, held Aug. 4 in Collis Common Ground. Wright joined Dean of Student Life Holly Sateia in welcoming participants to the event.

Susan DeBevoise Wright
Susan DeBevoise Wright speaking at the third annual support staff conference on Aug. 4. (photo by Charles Rountree '05)

The day-long conference was titled "Diversity Awareness and Enrichment: Appreciation of Differences." The event paid tribute to the important role that support staff play in advancing the mission of the College and also provided participants with a selection of presentations and workshops that focused on workplace dynamics and creating a supportive atmosphere within the College's diverse community.

"You are the front line," said Sateia in her opening remarks. She talked about her own interest in working with staff members. "I worked as a secretary and temporary employee when I was in college," she said, "and I felt invisible. I wanted to change that perception." Sateia's own work, including directing a Dartmouth women's caucus from 1981-83, where she surveyed staff members at all levels and provided the College with a fresh look at how Dartmouth employees perceive their workplace, showed her commitment to enabling groups with different needs.

Wright began her remarks by conveying her husband's regards to the attendees. "When Jim was inaugurated as President, we invited all of the assistants he had worked with to sit with our family," she said. "Jim recognized that their contributions were significant to his own success." Referencing the slogan of the Summer Enrichment at Dartmouth (SEAD) program, "Learn, Laugh and Dream," Wright also encouraged staff members to appreciate the knowledge that they can take from their coworkers, enjoy their time at work and realize their ambitions for a successful career. "You make this place hum," she said with appreciation.

The keynote address was delivered by James Platt, Director of Dartmouth's Employee Assistance Program and Instructor in Psychiatry at Dartmouth Medical School. In a wry and funny presentation, Platt provided examples of typical workplace conflicts, then broke them down, identifying the behaviors and reactions that comprise them. "You may want a better relationship," he said, "but it may have to begin with you."

Platt's presentation set the stage for afternoon workshops that addressed how changing workplace demographics affect the workplace and how personality differences influence the office environment.

The event was open to all non-exempt staff members from the College and the graduate professional schools. The conference was sponsored by the offices of the Provost, the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Institutional Diversity and Equity, Human Resources and, within the Dean of the College area, the Offices of Pluralism and Leadership and Student Life.

By JOEL AALBERTS

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Last Updated: 12/17/08