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Sharbari Dey Wins Three Legged Stool Award for Promoting Campus Cooperation

October 15, 2016
University Gazette

When Sharbari Dey received an email about winning the Employee Forum Community Award—also known as the Three Legged Stool—she didn’t do anything with it.

“I was very embarrassed, and I felt like an impostor,” she said.

It took some convincing from her colleagues before Dey, who came to the University from Virginia Tech in December 2012, started to believe she had won it. Then she ran into Natiaya Neal, who chairs the Recognition and Awards Committee of the Employee Forum, at an event. Neal asked if Dey had gotten the email. Dey told her she had and reluctantly agreed to attend the Sept. 14 meeting to be recognized.

The aim of the Three Legged Stool Award is to recognize distinguished contributions by individuals who work to promote cooperation and collaboration among faculty, staff and students. In her role as the assistant director of education and special initiatives in the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs (DMA), Dey works with countless units across campus to develop strategic initiatives to advance diversity and address workplace climate concerns.

Dey’s colleagues believe few connect the University better than she does. In one nomination letter, a colleague said she is “one of the University’s most passionate, thoughtful and intentional collaborators” whose “very ethos involves collaborating with campus partners in an effort to not only advance diversity and inclusion at UNC but also leverage the talents of each collaborator.”

Sense of Belonging

Dey said she’s thoughtful about working with so many campus units because she wants each student and faculty and staff member to feel a sense of belonging as soon as he or she steps foot on campus.

“When you walk into a big space like a university, if you feel that sense of belonging, then you stay,” she said.

Dey felt that way when she came to campus. By cultivating this welcoming environment, Dey hopes to create a community at Carolina like the one in which she grew up in Pune, India—a small city close to Mumbai—where everyone looked out for one another.

“You couldn’t step out of the neighborhood without someone asking where you’re going,” she said.

She didn’t find that intrusive. “Everybody should know you and watch out for you,” Dey said, “and if there’s something going on in your life where you need support, you should have multiple people whom you are able to talk to.”

Coming Together

Dey works to make everyone feel welcome in her office, and she extends that culture all over campus by creating opportunities for faculty, staff and students to come together to discuss topics in common spaces.

“There is a wide variety of very passionate people who are interested in making sure that others are successful here,” she said. “I have the great fortune to work alongside an incredibly dedicated team at Diversity and Multicultural Affairs.  All of us are passionate about creating and maintaining a diverse and inclusive Carolina. Perhaps that is why I find it difficult to accept this award on my own behalf.”

In the words of Ada Wilson, DMA’s director of inclusive student excellence, “Sharbari is much too humble. She helped start the annual Diversity THINKposium in 2012, which she still manages.  That’s one of the best occasions to introduce concepts centered on a healthy campus culture,” she said.

In most of Dey’s diversity trainings or conferences, the focus is on content. The goal of the THINKposium is to take what has been learned about diversity and inclusion and continue the conversation after the conference.

“We’ve got to show you how to take that back with you,” Dey said. “Here’s a tool. Use it. These are some tangible things you can take back to your classroom or to your workplace, so try them.”

Each year, the THINKposium builds on the skills and lessons learned in the previous year. This year’s theme was “lived experiences of difference.” THINKposium 2016 was a day to examine why the world feels so polarized, to peer into the “empathy gap” between people of different social groups and to ponder the browning and graying of America. After a summer of heightened racial unrest nationally, the topic of diversity seemed particularly relevant.

Indeed, Dey has a 10-year plan for the THINKposium on a dry-erase board in her office. Her goal for the 10th year, 2021, is to discuss inclusive excellence, but that can’t be done in one year.

“What we discussed last year and the previous year, we build upon it and build upon it,” Dey said. “It’s a progression. It takes building blocks.”

Creating this space for continued professional development and competency building is the aim of the THINKposium and many of the other programs Dey researches, designs and coordinates on campus and in the community.

Making a Difference

Dey still cannot believe that her “really small” work is valued on such a large campus. “I think there is a lot of power in collective movements. I don’t know if any one individual can change everything on their own. It truly does take a village and an openness to diverse voices,” she said.

But her colleagues and the Employee Forum think she is an individual who has made a difference. That is why they honored her.

“I think the Employee Forum has many people who do tremendous work to make sure that employees here feel like they’re valued and affirmed. It’s very humbling to be recognized,” she said. “It’s something I’ll treasure forever.”

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