Walden Walks with Pride
At the very heart of Walden University is its mission of effecting positive social change. For nearly 50 years, the organization has built a community of learners who use their education to make a difference in their local communities and abroad. Social change is brought to life through various Walden initiatives, including the annual Global Days of Service volunteer effort and promoting our students and alumni social change efforts through Scholars of Change. It is also at the core of Walden’s purposeful curricula, and it has inspired thousands of students, alumni, faculty, and staff to create and contribute to actionable local and global change.
Walden’s staff created the Community Building Community (CBC), a group focused on advancing the university’s social change mission internally and promoting health and wellness on an individual and organizational level. Since its inception more than 10 years ago, the group has expanded to include 26 members and various subcommittees charged with driving interest and awareness of different initiatives, including Black History Month, Green Week, holiday wellness activities and more.
The CBC’s 12-person Pride Month subcommittee is chaired by two academic advisors who are particularly passionate: Matthew Burgess, who earned his master’s in gender studies, and Lindsay Gilbertson, a proud member of the LGBTQ community and the developer of Walden’s Safe Space training. Other committee members have personal connections to the LGBTQ community, including the mother of a transgender boy, a former mental health counselor who worked with transgender youth, and an openly bisexual woman.
“In developing Pride Month activities, it was important for us to make it fun while addressing a challenging topic that people don’t talk about every day,” says Gilbertson.
“We also discussed the need to include the serious and educational aspects when addressing such an important cultural issue,” adds Caro Smith, CBC co-chair and manager of data efficiency in Walden’s Office of Institutional Research.
With unwavering support from Interim President Dr. Ward Ulmer, Chief Academic Officer and Provost Dr. Eric Riedel, Human Resources Manager Erin Rauker and other human resources leadership, the group organized various educational activities and events throughout the month. They created flyers and bulletin boards to raise awareness about Pride Month history and implemented a craft activity that encouraged people from all backgrounds to work collaboratively. They also developed a workshop that dives deeper into Safe Space training and launched a supply drive to support Avenues for Homeless Youth, which provides transitional housing and shelter for homeless youth, many of whom identify as LGBTQ. Additionally, the group assembled 70 members of the Walden community to participate in the Minneapolis-St. Paul 2018 Twin Cities Pride Parade on June 24.
After personally attending the 2017 parade, Burgess was unsure how his colleagues would react to his suggestion of Walden participating in the 2018 parade.
“It was a humbling response that demonstrated a real hunger and passion for supporting diversity and inclusion efforts,” recalls Burgess. “For so many years, the CBC has partnered with organizations, agencies, and events that have created a foundation to be able to organize around an issue such as LGBTQ rights.”
Caitlin Dinneen, CBC co-chair and field education coordinator for social work, drafted the parade application.
“It turns out it’s not easy to get into the Pride Parade, but it was easy to demonstrate Walden’s commitment to the LGBTQ community and how it connects to Walden’s mission of effecting positive social change,” says Dinneen.
Mirroring Walden’s global classroom, the CBC is known for bringing outside voices into Walden’s Minneapolis office to offer diverse perspectives on issues of interest. The CBC invited some of the Avenues for Homeless Youth’s representatives and supply drive recipients so they could provide insight into their work and experiences with LGBTQ youth and their host families.
“It can be uncomfortable to meet and speak with someone who identifies as something other than the majority, but that’s how you learn,” says Gilbertson.
Over the years, the CBC has been learning from each of its endeavors to understand what resonates with staff and where there is room for growth and opportunity.
“It’s been exciting to watch the progress of the CBC and how it has engaged staff around Walden’s social change mission,” says Molly Raymond, CBC co-chair and a field education coordinator for social work. “In the past few years, there has been an energy shift that has afforded us new amazing and diverse committee members who are excited to put the work in for important issues like LGBTQ. It has been a momentous month.”