While the global pandemic caused many events to be canceled, it also created a great opportunity to bring people together with virtual experiences. One of those events was the first ever iDEA (inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility) Forum, which brought together 13 iSchools from across the country to discuss how these issues impact the information field.

The forum met on March 10, 2021 and brought together members of iSchool communities everywhere for a series of presentations, panels, and discussions. According to the iDEA forum website, the forum sought to “foster a culture of belonging for each race, ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin and socio-economic status both within our iSchool communities and beyond.”

At the forefront of the forum was Syracuse University iSchool professor Martha Garcia-Murillo who saw the increase in virtual events as an opportunity to develop an event where professors, staff members, and students could all meet together and discuss diversity and equity issues in information technology.

“iSchools are stronger together. Working with professionals and students at other universities opens your mind to new ideas and so we can bring aspects of what they’re doing here and they can use what we are doing at their schools,” she said. “This forum opened up curiosity, and that’s a good thing because novelty is one of the areas where we thrive.”

The forum had three main goals. The first was to highlight how issues in diversity and inclusion are impacted by the information field and the second was to help institutions learn from each other. Finally, the forum aimed to form long-lasting partnerships for collaboration in the future.

“One of the most valuable parts of the forum was that it allowed people who might not have thought about contacting each other to work together on similar research interests and think about new ways to present ideas in their field,” Garcia-Murillo said.

She also noted that the forum aimed to support the community of assistant professors at participating iSchools. Instead of bringing in the schools’ most well-known scholars, the purpose of this forum was to highlight the work and ideas of early-career researchers. The iSchool professors who presented included Radhika Garg, Steve Wallace, Sheila Clifford-Bova, Beth Patin, and Garcia-Murillo.

The forum was also a valuable experience for students who participated. For Daniel Scott, a graduate student studying applied data science, the forum was both inspiring and motivating.

“Information is at the foundation of everything we do, and it will be a driving force behind building a community of belonging,” he said. “As a student, it was great to hear what other professors are doing on their campuses to integrate iDEA into their curriculum. They really care about their students and are taking action to make iSchools more inclusive, diverse, equitable, and accessible”

The forum was also a great networking opportunity for Scott. He is the president of BLISTS (Black and Latinx Information Science and Technology Support) at the iSchool, and is hoping to bring the organization to other campuses across the country. With the help of Garcia-Murillo, he’s been able to contact students from other universities that attended the iDEA Forum. He plans to develop a similar event specifically for BLISTS, so the organization can grow at new universities and help members connect with students on other campuses.

Garcia-Murillo hopes to continue the forum and the relationships created in the future. She wants the conference to become an annual event, and for the scholars who meet to stay in contact with each other throughout the year. Overall, she envisions a future where conference attendees develop a community that invites each other to speaking events and collaborates on research projects.

She believes that this goal will be attainable due to the dedication of this year’s participants.

“Everyone who worked on this project was incredibly dedicated and gave resources. One school set up all the Zoom meetings, one built the forum website and social media, and another created the evaluation forms,” she said. “It was great to see that amount of participation during a pandemic.”

As for Scott, he recommends that more students attend the forum or similar events when they have the opportunity to do so. He says that while school can sometimes feel overwhelming, attending the forum helped affirm the value of his and other students’ hard work at the iSchool. 

“It’s important to connect with other people who care and are actively working to build a more inclusive information field,” he said. “Our efforts, especially with all that is happening in the world today, can feel overwhelming at times. This forum was a great reminder that there is an entire community of students, staff, and professors who believe in the importance of diversity & inclusion. These kinds of events provide added sources of inspiration, and help broaden your perspective on how you can improve your own community.” 

For more information about the iSchool iDEA Forum 2021, visit their website.