BRISTOL, R.I. ­­– Changing demographics. Stubborn opportunity gaps. The value of higher education increasingly questioned.

The challenges ahead are massive. But so are the opportunities.

Roger Williams University is striving to build the university the world needs now, so on Jan. 23 it will bring together students, faculty, staff and members of the larger community for “Thriving RWU 2030: A Summit on Diversity and Inclusion.”

“The promise and potential of higher education will always fall short until we successfully admit and graduate members of traditionally underrepresented groups at levels proportional to their numbers in society at large,” RWU President Donald J. Farish said. “ ‘Inclusion and equity’ are not mere words at RWU, but rather they represent a call for social justice to which we are determined to respond.”

“Anyone who is engaged in these matters knows that the challenges can be overwhelming, but we will not be deterred,” RWU Chief Diversity Officer Ame O. Lambert said. “If we truly work together, I believe our collective wisdom will generate the innovative thinking that can change the world, starting with us. We hope to develop a really bold vision of what’s possible, along with the will and the means to close the gap between potential and reality.”

The summit builds on past efforts by RWU students, faculty and staff – including the 2014 Vision Project that defined the university’s goal: “To build the university the world needs now.” RWU identified six ways of achieving that goal, including “hiring faculty and staff, and recruiting students, who mirror the diversity of our region,” “working with local and global communities to address problems that matter most to society” and “meeting the higher education needs of dedicated and aspiring learners of all ages and career stages.”

At its core, the institution made a commitment to focus on access, equity and community engagement. That spirit is propelling the summit and the efforts it will spark.

The summit also builds on the hiring of Lambert, who began working in June as RWU’s first chief diversity officer, and it builds on RWU’s yearlong series, “Talking About Race, Gender and Power.” As part of that series, former Spelman College President Beverly Daniel Tatum visited the campus, and all first-year students and many others in the campus community read and discussed the 20th anniversary edition of her landmark book, “ ‘Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?’ And Other Conversations About Race.”

Members of the media are invited to cover the summit, and members of the public are welcome to attend and contribute. Seating is limited and registration closes on Jan. 15.

“It is an opportunity for members of our larger community to assist in shaping and living out our vision, which is to partner with the community and to strengthen society,” Lambert said. “We need them to be involved as full partners in on our planning, thinking and acting so we do not end up with an ivory tower product.”

Jamie Scurry, dean of the RWU School of Continuing Studies, said, “Living our ethos means that we must do the work day in and day out. It means we move beyond talk and beyond standard culture, inclusion and diversity training (that often maintains the status quo). It means we must remove the barriers and obstacles that far too many students and families encounter, building a team of people who are reflective of the students and communities being served, honoring the cultural and ecological context of the communities in which we work, and creating a diverse array of programs that work with the rhythm and demands of students’ lives.”

Based at RWU’s new campus in downtown Providence, the School of Continuing Studies has designed programs that harness the talent and ingenuity of many Rhode Islanders who have limited opportunity and choices – high school students who have dropped out (Gateway to College, Career Pathway Programs), those who are or were incarcerated (Pivot the Hustle), or career-changers looking to advance their skills and knowledge.

“Through these types of programs and partnerships with ARISE, the Center for Youth and Community Leadership in Education, or Ready to Learn Providence, we are able to link arms and collectively create a positive impact that strengthens communities, family by family, block by block,” Scurry said. “These efforts will help bring education and work force training to the parts of the community that need it most – living our ethos as part of RWU 2030.”

The summit will run from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 23, at the Campus Recreation Center Fieldhouse on the Bristol campus, 1 Old Ferry Road, Bristol, R.I. Go here to register.