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Dean's column: Developments in Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Thursday, January 19, 2017

I am excited to see everyone back on campus, ready to take on a new semester. Whether the break meant time away or a quieter office, I hope it brought you opportunities to reflect and recharge.

As we start the spring semester, we are continuing to focus our efforts on three key priorities: student-centered services and programs; enhancing research opportunities and impact; and diversity, equity and inclusion. We are making significant progress in each of the areas, and I will report to you key developments throughout the semester. In this column, I’m pleased to tell you more about developments in diversity, equity and inclusion.

As you know, the College appointed Jennifer Hamer as our first-ever associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). She quickly developed a plan for DEI, which we shared with you in early fall. Since the release of that plan, she has been steadfastly putting it into action. She has been assisted in those efforts by administrative associate Cody Case.

I would like to take a moment to clarify the purpose of the DEI office in the College. Diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts have been on university campuses for over 40 years.  Yet, in the 21st century, we still have much work to do. It is popularly believed that DEI is solely focused on issues of race and ethnicity. Without question these are domains that remain urgently in need of our attention; we hope that our goals make clear that our efforts are more expansive and comprehensive.

In the College, our goals are simple.  We want to build a diverse College that reflects the demographics of our regional, national, and global realities and where all members of our community feel included and welcome.  Moreover, we must build learning and workplace environments that acknowledge differences and emphasize equitable approaches in hiring, classrooms and curriculum, family leave time, faculty evaluations, recruitment, and retention, and student resources.

Our work has been simultaneously thoughtful and expedited.  Our first semester has focused on developing partnerships and networks across campus, as well as building awareness and establishing a foundation to implement new programs and events for students, faculty and staff.

Here are several examples:

  • Built partnerships with Watkins Health Center, Counseling & Psychological Services, Office of Multicultural Affairs, Student Veterans Center and Emily Taylor Center for Women & Gender Equity. This effort builds on the idea that students are more likely to find academic success when they are able to find support for their physical, mental and financial well-being;
  • Established the Council of Councils, bringing together staff and faculty councils to meet as a larger body. Council representatives will meet at least once each semester to discuss common interests, build professional development opportunities and broaden social networks. Members were invited to meet this fall with Shane McCreery, KU’s new director of the Office of Institutional Opportunity & Advancement. The meeting was packed with representatives from the Asian American Faculty Staff Council, the Latino Faculty Staff Council, the Black Faculty Staff Council, the Native Staff Faculty Council, and the Sexuality & Gender Diversity Consortium;
  • Reviewed in a systematic and shared process the full range of College policies and procedures to ensure that they are clear and consistent – and ultimately equitable. The College Academic Council is reviewing bylaws, and the College is reviewing its policies and procedures. Proposed changes have been and will continue to be shared to gather feedback from faculty and staff. This process establishes a stronger foundation for greater institutional equity and fairness for all CLAS units, faculty, staff, and students;
  • Collaborated with Student Academic Services on continued success of the faculty mentorship program for struggling students;
  • Provided additional funding to an Undergraduate Women in Physics conference at KU to add a pre-conference session for minority, female high school students;
  • Consulted frequently with students, faculty and staff on a variety of issues related to workplace and learning environment concerns. The College provided a single point of contact to help students navigate questions regarding conduct, policies and campus resources. Additionally, College leadership advised departments and faculty on retention, and navigating conflicts or difficult conversations;
  • Took significant steps in the hiring and retention of faculty from underrepresented groups;
  • Provided a new administrative home for the Interactive Theatre Troupe, which is available to departments and units across campus for interactive workshops to work through challenging scenarios;
  • Developed a web page for College DEI and a calendar of DEI events across campus.

Going forward, this spring, the College DEI efforts will expand. While foundational work will continue, programs and events will begin to launch.

  • On Jan. 26, the College will host its first-ever Student Summit. The purpose of the summit is to engage more deeply with students who are interested in our new and continuing and collaborative initiatives to create and maintain a more welcoming and fair learning environment. Please encourage your students to attend;
  • Later this month, the College will announce its first cohort of Leadership for Equity Fellows. The objective of the fellows is to develop leadership among minoritized faculty and staff, and to contribute directly to implementation of the College DEI plan. The work of DEI is extensive.  This first cohort will play an important role in our ability to engage with units and faculty within CLAS, strengthen important connections across the campus, and develop the selection process for future iterations of the Fellows program;
  • Next month, the College will begin hosting weekly CLAS Time lunches for students. The lunches are free to those with KU IDs and others who are invited to attend.  CLAS Time is our opportunity to encourage informal conversations about campus climate among students, faculty, and staff who choose to attend;
  • This spring, the College will launch Pathways, which is a resource for marginalized faculty to negotiate the experiences of being a minority on campus, including areas such as promotion and tenure and how to balance teaching, research and service;
  • Also, this semester as we work on the College-wide strategic planning process, we are infusing DEI themes and initiatives throughout;
  • And throughout this semester, we will be developing a comprehensive resource guide that encourages a healthy balance between work, family and social relationships, and emotional and physical health.  The guide will, for example, provide consumer-friendly information on family leave and supportive resources, listings of local child care options, and information that facilitates the ability of faculty and staff to direct students to appropriate student services.

Ultimately, our goal is to support everyone’s success by ensuring we have working and learning environments that are diverse, equitable and inclusive. However, to reach that level, we have to start with the basics – providing resources and easy accessibility to services that help all students, faculty and staff develop a foundation of mental and physical well-being, and ensuring our policies and procedures are clear and consistent.

KU has a number of resources, yet it can be difficult to know what all those options are and who to reach out to. We are working toward making this process easier and establishing our DEI office as a first point of contact when you have questions.

I am grateful to all those in the College and across campus who play a part in reaching our goal of a more diverse, equitable and inclusive campus. I look forward to sharing our continued progress.