DEI on the Inside

DEI on the Inside: Using Personal Discernment Work to Foster Culturally Responsive Community

Our project, “DEI on the Inside,” centers around the design and implementation of experiences that provide a comprehensive roadmap to guide, assist, and support colleagues who wish to infuse diversity, equity, and inclusion into their way of being. These experiences, including workshops, discussion groups, and guided brainstorming activities, will provide our community the support to move beyond the temptation to question the relevance DEI considerations have to their role at the college. This initiative is designed to aid NOVA staff and faculty in their work to actively re-envision, and re-imagine, and re-frame themselves, our students, and our college through an equity lens.

These offerings are built upon the practices of mindful awareness and non-violent communication. Individually, each of the experiences offered can help bring awareness to issues of cultural conditioning and academic standards that challenge our shared desire for creating a college that serves all in our community.  When taken together, this series will provide a framework that can lead anyone, regardless of their role at the college, to a greater understanding and appreciation of the diverse experiences of all of those that we work with and serve. We have tentatively titled these experiences as follows:

  • Cultural Conditioning: Using Mindfulness to Investigate our Norms and Standards
  • Questioning Culture: Embracing Ways of Being that Include Awareness of All
  • Needs Negotiation: Exploring How Competing Needs Emerge in College Contexts
  • Honest Assessment: Discovering Patterns of Thinking and Uncovering Harmful Habits 
  • Community Resources: Finding Support in the Peers that Surround Us 


This project will help the college community identify cultural conditioning and navigate how those factors influence the work of the college. Tema Okum says, “Culture is powerful precisely because it is so present and at the same time so very difficult to name or identify.” Because cultural conditioning begins and extends well beyond the workplace, our work together is designed to first assist NOVA faculty and staff in the discernment of how their specific personal and professional lives intersect with issues of diversity, equity, and inclusivity. Some of us, regardless of where we are situated at the college, may never have been first-generation college students. Some may not have worked during college, nor experienced schooling in culturally diverse communities, or seen inclusion authentically modeled. As a result, it can be challenging to recognize exclusive or limiting practices and expectations normalized within academic contexts. 

This project is built on the understanding that true awareness and discernment can be facilitated through active participation, group discussion, and contemplative attention. It aims to foster a positive, nurturing environment where discernment can be practiced within an atmosphere of openness, compassion, acknowledgment, and grace. In these conditions, we believe the community will be empowered to better understand the nature of their own culture, particularly as a result of their positionality within the academy – the position they hold, their social position, and the truth of their personal history. Simply put: to create a culturally aware and responsive college, we need a self-reflective and self-aware workforce.