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Currents--University of Rochester newspaper

Diversity, professional development focus of affinity groups

Jackie Mendez and James Villone

Mendez and Villone

The Human Resources Office of Multicultural Affairs and Inclusion has introduced three affinity groups—the African American Network, the Pride Alliance, and the Latino Professional Network. These new resources for faculty and staff are designed to provide mentoring and professional development opportunities and to open communication lines between individuals, the Greater Rochester community, and University management.

“Affinity groups are considered best practices when you’re looking at diversity in an organization,” says Stanley Byrd, manager of multicultural affairs and inclusion. Byrd came to the University in 2005 to work on University-wide processes supporting diversity. He knew that affinity groups would be an important part of the plan.

“They can create the fertile ground we need to have a flourishing, diverse community,” says Karen Mustian, assistant professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology and communications and outreach chair for the Pride Alliance.

The groups are “a hybrid of models used at other universities and at corporations like Xerox and Kodak—places where this is done well,” says Byrd. Each group has its own board, bylaws, and executive champion, a University leader who volunteers to act as a liaison to senior management on unique diversity issues faced by the group’s constituency.

“Affinity groups can be a draw for a prospective employee,” says James Villone, a clinical technologist in the Strong Clinical Laboratory and cochair of the Pride Alliance. “It’s a message that there are people here who are like you, who have had experiences like yours, and who can help you ease the transition to a new workplace and build networks.”

The groups benefit longtime employees, too, offering mentoring, support, and advice on ways to advance professionally. “People have credentials that may need polishing if they’re to take advantage of them. These groups show members how to do that,” says Ulandus Powell-Quinn, administrative assistant in the School of Nursing and cochair of the African American Network. Her group runs workshops on topics such as resume writing and leadership skills.

This fall the Pride Alliance held a group session on benefits available to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender employees and their partners. The group also is collaborating with the undergraduate group Pride Network to serve common interests and share resources. In October, it sponsored the Pride Network’s panel on gay-straight alliances. While the groups do not act as advocates for employees to the administration or Human Resources, they can provide support and guide members to appropriate channels in the University and community, Villone notes.

The affinity groups provide community service and educational programs, too. Such activities “allow us to strive,” says Janice Jackson, African American Network cochair and receptionist in the Department of Imaging Sciences. In September, the network gave a two-day workshop on “Black Employment at the University of Rochester: A Historical Review” and in October organized a team for a breast-cancer awareness walk.

The Latino Network is planning a slate of events for Hispanic Heritage Month next September and will be surveying members of the University community for other program ideas, says cochair Jackie Mendez, senior assistant director of admissions for the College.

When people consider working at the University, Mustian says, the decision often turns on quality of life. “It’s not always about dollars. People consider what the community will be like, what coming to the office will be like.” These groups are a way to foster that multiculturalism and inclusiveness, says Byrd.

African American Network board member Penny Rash sees the affinity groups as an important step toward building such a community. “We’ve never had anything like this at the University. We’re all learning as the groups start to grow, and the support is great.” Powell-Quinn agrees. “Nothing’s going to happen overnight. But we’re on the right road,” she says. “To be a part of this is a wonderful thing.”

The affinity groups will hold a joint open house on December 15 from 5 to 8 p.m. in the Arthur Kornberg Atrium at the Medical Center. Any University employee interested in learning more about the groups is invited to attend, and there will be food and entertainment.

For more information or to join an affinity group, call x6-3259. Information also is available at www.rochester.edu/diversity.

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