Summit Shapes Next Steps Toward Racial Equity

Two students walk on Centennial Campus

In the midst of a global pandemic and national turmoil around social injustice, NC State planned and hosted its first Racial Equity Summit on Oct. 15, 2020.

Undergraduate and graduate students, staff, faculty, community members and alumni joined university leadership, including the chancellor, provost, the Chancellor’s Cabinet and several vice chancellors, deans and faculty members in examining the campus climate and issues related to equity and inclusion.

After the Summit, organizers and participants held debriefing sessions, reflected on the information gathered, and took time to thoughtfully formulate a path forward.

Summit Findings

Findings from the Summit include the many remarks, opinions and stories shared by participants that help illustrate ways in which NC State currently excels in creating a place where everyone can succeed, and ways in which we can improve. These qualitative data, including mentions of specific action steps and behaviors, provide a way to determine strengths and find areas for improvement.

In addition, about a quarter of the Summit participants completed a post-Summit survey that provided quantitative measures of how well the Summit succeeded in achieving its objectives. Overall, participants rated the event highly across several categories. 

  • Over 60% responded that they gained knowledge about racial equity
  • Over 60% responded that the Appreciative Inquiry process is a productive method for navigating NC State’s work toward racial equity.
  • Over 70% responded that the Summit was a useful step toward achieving racial equity at NC State.
  • Over 80% felt that proposed action items discussed are achievable with commitment and continued action. 
  • Over 90% responded that they felt they had the opportunity to voice their perspective during the breakout sessions.

The survey also included open-ended questions that indicated that participants were pleased with the presence of university leaders at the Summit, the openness of the discussion and the diverse representation of participants in terms of both race and NC State affiliation. 

In terms of constructive criticism, participants expressed that they would have liked to have had more concrete action items and goal setting, more time to dig deeper into issues, and more opportunity for difficult conversations centering racial inequity, including how to confront racist legacies in a constructive way.

Participants praised the overall positivity of the event; however, survey responses indicated that accountability and transparency will be important in moving forward and achieving progress, as well as enumerating the specific ideas generated as well as the action items the university will undertake in the months ahead.

  • Steering Team meetings are scheduled for March and April, 2021. For the final report from the Summit and recent updates, see the Racial Equity Summit website.

Appreciative Inquiry

During the Summit’s planning phase, a Guiding Coalition under the leadership of Joretha Johnson prepared to conduct the half-day intensive exploration using the Appreciative Inquiry model of facilitating change. 

Johnson is the founder of Advanced Transformational Technologies LLC, a management consulting firm that uses a range of innovative approaches to help cultivate healthy individuals, organizations and communities. She is also connected to NC State as a member of the Chancellor’s African American Community Advisory Council.

A proponent and practitioner of the Appreciative Inquiry method, Johnson taught the model to each of the groups involved in planning the event. In addition to the Guiding Coalition, a steering team and a group of designated facilitators also convened in September to learn how the model differs from typical problem-solving techniques and how it can succeed as a vehicle for enacting lasting positive change. Several of the facilitators were already knowledgeable about the method, which was pioneered by organizational behavior researchers David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva in 1987.

Video: Racial Equity Summit Guiding Coalition members on what they hope to learn or take away from the Summit on Oct. 15, 2020.

The Appreciative Inquiry framework centers on principles that manifest through five strategic questions:

Define: The identification of the affirmative topic.

Discover: The identification of organizational processes that work well.

Dream: The envisioning of processes that would work well in the future.

Design: Planning and prioritizing processes that would work well.

Destiny: The implementation of the proposed design.


Videos: Racial Equity Summit facilitators report their groups’ responses during the Appreciative Inquiry process on Oct. 15, 2020.

UNC System Efforts and Next Steps

Concurrent with NC State’s Racial Equity Summit, the University of North Carolina System Office convened a Racial Equity Task Force that launched a three-part effort to engage the entire system. Activities included a system-wide survey in September, virtual town halls in October, a Task Force workshop in November and final reporting in December.

NC State’s next steps will align with findings from the UNC System report, published on Dec. 15, 2020, to be delivered to the Board of Governors this month. (See related article: UNC System Racial Equity Task Force Releases Final Report.)

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