YSU Professor Advocates for DEI Efforts

CHAMPION TOWNSHIP, Ohio – The United States has problems with diversity, equity and inclusion because the country wasn’t built on those concepts, a Youngstown State University professor said.

Cryshanna A. Jackson Leftwich, professor of politics and international relations at YSU, spoke on “What Does DEI Look Like Beyond 2023? Maintaining an Inclusiveness Without Being Exclusive” as part of a morning-long program Friday.

Leftwich’s lecture concluded the Unmute the Uncomfortable Community Dialogue held at Kent State University at Trumbull. It was presented by Coleman Health Services in partnership with the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board.

About 140 individuals attended Friday’s program, said Stacia Erdos, regional development executive for Coleman Health Services in Mahoning, Trumbull and Jefferson counties.

“It’s time that we have an honest and crucial discussion about race, gender and other forms of discrimination out there,” Leftwich said. “The problem is sometimes we are not honest about how we feel, about how we were raised, about the perceptions that we have.”

Leftwich shared a quote by author Carol Anderson, who wrote that the victories won for minorities during the Civil Rights Movement “caused a reaction that stripped Brown [v. Board of Education] of its power, severed the jugular of the Voting Rights Act, poured crack cocaine and locked up more Black men proportionally than even apartheid-era South Africa.”

High voter turnout in recent elections also led to the passage of laws to suppress voting, the YSU professor said.  

Additionally, she pointed out that efforts to institute DEI measures implemented after the death of George Floyd are being attacked “on every level,” with many of the DEI personnel being fired “because some political party” said DEI efforts are racist.

“This country was not built to allow people – everybody – the same opportunities, even though they said they did,” she said. “I’m going to hold America to this promise.”  

Leftwich also emphasized the need for everyone to be involved in addressing the problems caused by racism. She counters the arguments made by people who say they didn’t own slaves and don’t discriminate by referencing comments by author Isabel Wilkerson, who likens the situation to residing in a house with existing structural damage.  

“If you’re living in a house with structural damage and you don’t fix it, it’s going to fall in your face,” she said.  

Leftwich pointed to white supremacy as the “underlying root of all this evil.” The election of Barack Obama as president “interfered with the power hierarchy or structure of the United States that was built for certain people,” she said. But the world is constantly changing, and people have to change with it.  

“This nation is going to continue to face significant racial and gender disparities in criminal justice, health care, education, environment, housing, social service and transportation. We know that these are issues where we see racial disparities, so we’re going to have to come together, and we’re going to have to fix them,” she said.  

“We have to build awareness of social equity issues and indicators so that we can foster organizational cultures, within our communities, within our jobs, within our schools, within our educational systems, so that we can then implement them,” she added.

“It’s important to understand that everyone has a story to tell, and no one’s story should be muted because of the color of the skin they have, their ethnic background, their sexual orientation or their struggles with substance use disorder or mental health diagnoses. And recognize the only way we are going to move forward together as a community is if we do it together,” said Youngstown Municipal Court Judge Carla Baldwin, who moderated the event.  

“And we can’t do that if I don’t see the person who’s standing next to me,” she added.

The purpose of Friday’s event was to educate and advocate around racial equity, mental health awareness and suicide prevention,” said Hattie Tracey, Coleman’s president and CEO.

“The idea is really there are struggles within our systems, and we need to look within our communities, and we need to be willing to advocate to make changes,” she said. “We need to continue to recognize that there have always been struggles, and today we are a much more divisive world than we ever have been, so we really need to begin to address these struggles and make change.”

Pictured at top: Cryshanna A. Jackson Leftwich, professor of politics and international relations at YSU.

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