On Monday, the first-ever cohort of OU Changemakers, led by Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Dr. Laura Renée Chandler, reflected on their semester-long experience in the inaugural program. The theme for this year’s program was “building cultural understanding through critical dialogue.”
Over the past several months, the 19 Changemakers met weekly to hone their skills in communication, advocacy and community-building, while working to create initiatives to help support fellow Petrels. Participants focused discussions on their biggest hopes and dreams for building belonging within the Oglethorpe community.
Participants included: Messiah Steers (facilitator), Brandynn Campbell, Randi Parks, Sean Kang, Lacey Fyre, Annabelle English, Jaely Chavez, Alex Nukpi, Jordyn Billings (facilitator), Maria Coles, Gloria Okwueze, Morgan Quach, Ivy Nganga, Chamrye Hynson, Ashrakat Hassan, Alexa Kightlinger, Trinity Chism, Jada Thomas (facilitator) and Danyelle Briggs.
“Even if someone in our group disagreed with something, it was part of the program to learn how to have those conversations in a polite way,” says Randi Parks ’24, “I feel like that’s a big part of learning how to have conversation — learning how to disagree.”
Discussion was guided by student facilitators, who completed a training session in intergroup dialogue before the program began. These leaders also met weekly with Dr. Chandler to discuss dialogue topics, challenges of the program, and their weekly progress.
“The biggest thing that I took away from being a facilitator was to allow your group to free-roam,” says Ashrakat Hassan ’24. “If different ideas weren’t connecting, I would maybe say ‘Have you thought about this?,’ and getting to see that ‘aha’ moment from the group was really interesting.”
Several ideas were formed by the inaugural Changemakers class. One group, led by Jordyn Billings ’22 and Ivy Nganga ’25, wants to establish a student organization dedicated to critical dialogue, perspective-taking, and intersectional identities. Another group wants to focus on providing structural support for student organizations that have struggled since the pandemic. Yet another group will create a cultural film series focusing on highlighting the experiences of historically underrepresented groups.
“This was a very successful program for its first year,” says Dr. Chandler, “All the OU Changemakers groups are dedicated to making OU’s campus as welcoming and inclusive as possible,”
The OU Changemakers program is set to continue in the fall and will expand to include faculty and staff.
“The Office of DEI looks forward to growing the conversation and encouraging all members of the campus community to engaging in community-building dialogue,” says Dr. Chandler.