Growth through Knowledge and Understanding Speaker Series to raise awareness about biases, hate crimes, and marginalized people

Collage of photos of speakersThe Westmoreland Diversity Coalition continues its commitment to create, through advocacy and education, an atmosphere of understanding and unity in Westmoreland County. In particular, the Coalition continues its partnership with the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg to host the fall 2023 virtual speaker series, Growth through Knowledge and Understanding, to educate others about biases, hate crimes, and marginalized people. The sessions will focus on the lived experiences of the people who have traditionally been the targets of biases and hate crimes, which then lead to being marginalized in our society.

Each session will begin at 7 p.m. Participants must register in advance to receive the Zoom log-in information.

The Growth through Knowledge and Understanding speaker series opened Sept. 27 with Laura Dimino, PhD, discussing Rural America. Dimino is the assistant director for The Center for Rural Pennsylvania where she oversees the Center’s Research Grants Program and coordinates and develops external projects and Center initiatives.

The next three session dates and topics include:

  • Wednesday, Oct. 11 – Veterans
  • Wednesday, Oct. 25 – LGBTQIA
  • Wednesday, Nov. 8 – Victims of Violent Crime

Veterans – Oct. 11

Aryanna Wagner, executive director of RISE will discuss the issues facing US military veterans during her presentation on Wednesday, Oct. 11. Wagner, an Iraq war veteran, describes herself as a veteran advocate, an author, and a mom of four. She grew up the youngest of 10 children in a family that lived below the poverty line, so finding ways to make things happen was just a part of life. In 2001, at the age of 18, she answered the call of her nation and enlisted in the US Army—just weeks after the terror attacks of 9/11. Wagner served with the XVIII Airborne Corp on the front lines during Operation Iraqi. She is a federal consultant supporting Department of Veterans Affairs initiatives and is a LUMA-certified human-centered design practitioner. A Defense Council member of the Truman National Security Project, she is an Oxfam Sisters on the Planet Ambassador and belongs to many civic organizations, including the NAACP, VFW, and The Mission Continues. Wagner is pursuing her PhD in Community Engagement at Point Park University and holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration, an MBA, and a master’s degree in public administration.

LGBTQIA – Oct. 25

​​An expert in supporting LGBTQ+ youth, J. Coley Alston (They/Xe) is the program director of the Hugh Lane Wellness Foundation. Alston has led innovative youth initiatives in various roles over the past six years and believes in using data to drive change in policy and culture. Alston’s educational background includes a bachelor of science degree in natural sciences and a master’s in public health (MPH) with a certificate in LGBT Individuals’ Wellness from the University of Pittsburgh. Alston was inspired to pursue an MPH degree due to the health disparities experienced by Black LGBTQ youth and families. Alston has dedicated their work to improving outcomes and implementing systemic change. 

Nov. 8 – Violent Crime

Suzanne V. Estrella, Commonwealth Victim Advocate, is a victims' rights attorney with more than 30 years of legal experience, including 15 years of legal advocacy serving survivors of crime in Pennsylvania. Her years at the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR) as their Legal Director have brought an understanding of the trauma endured by crime victims and an insight into the ways in which systems created to protect victims can often re-traumatize them. Estrella’s passion for justice and commitment to centering the marginalized has led the Office of Victim Advocate to expand its victims' services, as well as its crime prevention and restorative justice efforts. The Office of Victim Advocate employs a full-time social worker, offering support groups and creative opportunities to promote hope and resiliency. Estrella hosts a monthly live Facebook discussion with survivors and continues to work collaboratively with local and state organizations to create safer caring communities where justice thrives. A graduate of the University of Tulsa College of Law and The Oral Roberts University, Estrella is a member of the Pennsylvania Bar, Florida Bar, and the Pennsylvania Bar Association. One of Pennsylvania’s 50 over 50, she is the recipient of the Luminary Award from the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the American Jurisprudence Award. She is also an experienced trainer in educating allied professionals on trauma-informed legal services, implicit bias, and victims’ rights.

For additional information about the Westmoreland Diversity Coalition or the Growth through Understanding and Knowledge speaker series, please contact Carlotta Paige, founder and co-chair of the Westmoreland Diversity Coalition, at or Al Thiel, director of the Student Center and Student Involvement at Pitt-Greensburg and a member of the Westmoreland Diversity Coalition board of trustees, at

About the Westmoreland Diversity Coalition:
The Westmoreland Diversity Coalition (Coalition) is a community–based nonprofit membership organization that is poised to bring people together to promote diversity from all walks of life, generate greater understanding and acceptance, and help create through advocacy and education an atmosphere in Westmoreland County where all people feel welcome. The Coalition is working to build a cohesive foundation and network of residents and organizations in Westmoreland County to raise public awareness and work collectively to effect broad-based social change.

The Coalition replaces the Central Westmoreland Unity Coalition which existed for over 20 years. This Coalition is a county-wide umbrella organization that embraces and promotes difference and inclusion.  It is committed to making Westmoreland County more inviting and diverse through county-wide programs and events, community conversations, educational material, etc., and seeks to partner with Westmoreland County government and other public and private entities to launch initiatives designed to help Westmoreland County grow and prosper.  

 At the core of this Coalition is the belief that the complicated, interrelated but subtle social issues that have existed in Westmoreland County for many years can only be addressed through long-range consistent effort and sustained commitment.  The Coalition’s strategic plan is to build its foundation as it evolves and gains the respect and confidence of the community while at the same time acknowledging and recognizing the need to develop awareness and adaptability to new challenges, opportunities, and lessons, as they emerge.

About the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg:
Founded in 1963, the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg is a publicly assisted, four-year, liberal arts college in southwestern Pennsylvania. Pitt-Greensburg offers 31 baccalaureate degree programs, including new majors in data analytics, nursing, and healthcare management, as well as 31 minors and four certificate programs. With nearly 1,400 students, more than 10,000 alumni, and faculty and staff numbering 270, Pitt-Greensburg provides a vibrant, diverse community that is a dynamic model of a 21st-century liberal arts education. As part of the University of Pittsburgh system, Pitt-Greensburg offers the resources of a world-renowned university combined with the individualized and immersive experiences of a small liberal arts college. Creativity and an entrepreneurial spirit permeate the campus and extend into its many collaborative projects with the Westmoreland County community. Nestled in Pennsylvania’s beautiful Laurel Highlands, the campus is surrounded by the region’s outdoor recreation venues and rich history. It is a five-minute drive from uptown Greensburg and less than an hour’s drive from Pittsburgh.

Publication Date

Wednesday, September 27, 2023 - 15:15