Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of attending a thought-provoking and inspiring event produced by the UNC MPA Program Diversity Committee. Entitled “Inclusion and Public Service,” the event brought together a panel of UNC MPA Alumni to discuss their perspectives on the topics of Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity from their experience as professionals in the field. The panel was moderated by Eric Marsh (Class of 2017, Strategic Initiatives Analyst for Durham County) and featured Monica Chaparro (Class of 2005, Strategic Planning & Performance Manager for the City of Raleigh), Faith Thompson (Class of 2003, Public Housing Director for the Town of Chapel Hill) and Dan Goetz (Class of 1977, Retired Project Manager for RTI International, Currently working with Organizing against Racism and the People’s Alliance in Durham).
Pictured above are the panelists with moderator Eric Marsh
One of the strengths of the MPA program at UNC is the extensive alumni network. Having alumni share their knowledge, both during the panel and informal conversation afterwards, was an excellent resource for students. The panel allowed students to further engage with topics we often read about and discuss in class and view them through a practical, real-life lens. I have been extensively thinking and writing about diversity, equity, and inclusion after attending an intensive training from the Racial Equity Institute as part of my own work in the Arts Community. I especially appreciated this opportunity to carry on the conversation of equity in public administration with my colleagues, professors, and alumni.
One of my main takeawayswas around the concept of authenticity. I heard this word come up again and again throughout the panel. A theme emerged that workplaces who succeed in these areas create an atmosphere where all employees feel they don’t have to alter who they are to come to work. I really connected with the way Monica explained this: “I bring my authentic self to work and my differences add value. I have a commitment to who I am. I bring that to work with me and I don’t feel compelled to assimilate to be someone that isn’t me.” Monica also discussed how this goes beyond demographic diversity. She and other panelists also discussed the importance of diversity of thought within organizations, citing the quote “the clash of ideas is the sound of freedom.” Faith discussed her work supporting authentic conversations among employees and urging people to thoughtfully examine stereotypes. She stressed it can be difficult to implement what people suggest but “I can’t ignore their feelings because I asked them to share.” She also talked about how this work fostered collaboration between different departments (such as Solid Waste and Business Management). Finally, Dan shared that he felt mapping where the power is in an organization is a very important part of inclusion, particularly in considering who is consulted when big decisions are made. He also discussed how many conversations can fall apart because we don’t have a shared set of language and definitions.
These issues exist across all corners of the public service field. As administrators in training, we need the intellectual, analytical, and emotional tools to engage with diverse communities to ensure equitable service delivery and workplace environments. The MPA Program, through coursework, events like the panel, and engagement with alumni can give an aspiring public service professional some of the tools they need to consider equity in their personal and professional lives. One event, panel, or graduate degree does not solve systemic problems, but it does give motivated students some effective tools, language, and knowledge to bring with them into their future public service careers.