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Art Piece: A Reminder That Diversity is 'A Work in Progress’

A staff-led community in Duke’s OIT unveils a collaborative art project in the lobby of OIT administrative offices

Part of the Working Toward Racial Justice Series
Attendees Trina Rodriguez, left, and La’Shawnda Kendall pose in front of the DiversifyIT art piece called A Work In Progress on Aug. 29. Photo by Jack Frederick
Attendees Trina Rodriguez, left, and La’Shawnda Kendall pose in front of the DiversifyIT art piece called A Work in Progress on Aug. 29. Photo by Jack Frederick

Though a mosaic of purple, green, orange, blue and black acrylic paints has dried, a collaborative art piece installed in the lobby of the Duke Office of Information Technology’s administrative offices serves as a reminder that the work to foster diversity is not complete.

About 40 Duke community members cheered Aug. 29 as a covering on the art came down to reveal a colorful 4-by-6-foot logo for DiversifyIT representing unity in IT. DiversifyIT, a staff-led community working toward awareness and support for all identities in IT at Duke, organized the project, and the art will be located on the first floor of the Power House Building on Fuller Street in Durham.J. Brandon Johnson takes the cover off A Work in Progress, a new art piece installed at the Power House Building on Aug. 29. Photo by Jack Frederick.

"I call this mural ‘A Work in Progress’ because I believed that knowing, bonding and connecting are far from over,” said J. Brandon Johnson, an IT analyst in Academic Media Services and the DiversifyIT Communications Committee Chair. “The threads that divide us continue to loom ever present and the challenges that face us in addressing them are as complicated as they are insidiously pervasive. Now that this torch that exemplified our empathy is lit, it will illuminate and inspire all who witness it."

Johnson created the original digital DiversifyIT logo using Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator in 2020. About 53 IT professionals from across Duke contributed to the painting project, which depicts the silhouettes of a variety of people representing diversity in IT.Attendees to the DiversifyIT unveiling gathered to see A Work In Progress go up after 53 IT professionals at Duke contributed to the work. Photo by Jack Frederick.

Johnson pitched the idea for the art to the DiversifyIT leadership team last year as an effort to build community. It was organized to mimic the fun of making childhood art as kids, which Johnson called the “purest form of connection.”

"DiversifyIT is where IT professionals at Duke make it possible to bring our whole selves to work," said Laura Webb, co-chair of DiversifyIT and project manager in OIT. "Creating this art display together has shown us one more way that people want to come together to have conversations that allow us to learn how to do that. There is no one right way to find those connections, but what does matter is bringing all our individual ‘pieces’ – seeing each piece, making room for each piece, valuing each piece."

During in-person events, attendees were encouraged to pick up a paint brush and add their own creativity to the work, even if only for a few minutes, while talking and spending time in community with colleagues.

The installation ceremony on Aug. 29 was attended by community members across campus, including Vice President and Chief Information Officer Tracy Futhey and Executive Vice President Daniel Ennis.After the ceremony, artist and project leader J. Brandon Johnson, left, spoke with Executive Vice President Daniel Ennis about the communal work. Photo by Jack Frederick.

Futhey and Ennis each mentioned being struck by the dedication of the DiversityIT group to help support diversity, equity and inclusion on campus.

“DiversifyIT is just a spectacular organic effort to help build community and to create a sense of belonging for anyone from any background, any walk of life,” Ennis said. “It’s just added enormous impact, and if I could take what they’ve generated and all the energy, momentum and goodwill they’ve generated and replicate it across other departments, I would do it in a heartbeat.”

Information technology is a field historically dominated by white men. According to Zippia, 25 percent of tech jobs in the United States are held by women; Black Americans hold 7 percent of jobs in the U.S. tech sector.

The work of DiversifyIT, which has 337 members at Duke, improves the inclusivity and visibility of diversity in IT on campus. The art will be a symbol of diversity and their work.After the art piece was unveiled, attendees took a closer look at it on the left side of the Power House lobby. Photo by Jack Frederick.

“When I first heard about DiversiftyIT, I thought it was a great way to create a conversation," said Adam To, Sr. Cloud Security Engineer in OIT. "A conversation can help create new awareness, understanding, and perspective, leading to collaboration and changes. This mural represents the start of that conversation.”

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