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Monday, September 28, 2020

DEI summit, actions, and focus areas

On August 26, over 80 CLA staff and faculty members gathered virtually for our first annual Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Summit. The event, originally scheduled for March, was a coming together of departmental DEI committee members and representatives from every department and unit at CLA. The summit aimed to help connect resources and colleagues, discuss what has been successful in departmental DEI work, what challenges departments face in this space, and what the college could do to assist departmental DEI efforts. A similar summit will be held for CLA administrative units in October. 

Thirteen small groups discussed these questions and reported back to the larger group. A document collating the group conversations is now online, and I encourage you to take a look in whichever way and to whatever depth you’d like. There is a lot of lived experience and creative thinking to explore in the document. Let me know what resonates and what strikes you as action steps that CLA should consider. CLA’s leadership team will be reading through all of the group reports to identify some key themes for action.

One of the announcements emerging from the summit is the creation of “Open Space” events hosted by Amelious Whyte, Jr., CLA Director of Public Engagement and Deb Ludowese, LATIS Associate Administrator. Open Space events will allow CLA faculty and staff to discuss topics regarding DEI within CLA. This is a forum where you can bring questions for conversation or topics where you are looking for advice and feedback. If you have a topic you’d like to suggest or a discussion on which you’d be willing to facilitate a discussion, please share your ideas in this document.

By now you have received or will soon receive my message announcing the search for an Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Please consider nominating someone for this position -- a nomination does not obligate that person in any way -- or self-nominate. The AD-DEI will play an important role advancing DEI in conjunction with other leaders, faculty, staff, and students throughout the college. 

We have much great DEI work occurring throughout the college. This work includes the RIGS Initiative, MLK Program, Indigenous Staff and Staff of Color Community, American Indian Summer Institute, Liberal Arts Engagement Hub, President's Postdoctoral Fellowship Program, DOVE top-up program for graduate recruitment, support for living-learning communities, HBCU pilot pipeline programs, pilot departmental DEI initiatives, and support for projects like the Black Midwest Initiative and DEI-related projects supported by the Interdisciplinary Collaborative Workshop program. The percentage of BIPOC undergraduate students and faculty has increased from fall 2014 through fall 2019 (from 22% to 28% and 17% to 22%, respectively; fall 2020 data not yet in). Nearly 50 of our faculty are participating in the Building Capacity for Engaging Diversity in Undergraduate Education Cohort, offered by the CLA Office of Undergraduate Education and led by Rev. Dr. Jamie Washington, a national leader on this topic. CLA’s Office of Institutional Advancement is offering a four-part “What’s Next? Roundtable” series over the fall months, addressing the power of business and philanthropy in the pursuit of racial justice, CLA alumni seeking social change, curriculum and pedagogy in K-12, and policing in Minneapolis.

I could point to much more. Many of our departments are developing initiatives, examining their curriculum, and working through difficult issues and conversations. Many departments have written DEI statements and I have asked the CLA Assembly to consider providing some thoughts and recommendations for the college for a college-wide statement of principles in this area. Departments also wrote statements following the killing of George Floyd, and our faculty spoke on issues of race, dignity, justice, and respect. Departments and college offices have held or are planning DEI training and professional development opportunities, and many faculty and staff have pursued individual training and education with a range of approaches. I fully support our faculty and staff seeking avenues of training, education, and development that help them learn, grow, and lead. Numerous scholarly studies are available that provide research-based guidance on what works and what does not on these avenues.

The work I’ve outlined here is all excellent and all to the good. We will soon have a DEI landing page at the college incorporating this wide array of important work. 

Diverse peoples, perspectives, and viewpoints make us stronger and better as individuals and an institution. Inclusively embracing the full value and contribution that everyone in our college brings to us by being their authentic selves makes us stronger and better. Applying an equity lens that ensures that our practices, policies, and procedures are equitable makes us stronger and better. A welcoming environment of inclusion and belonging will be critical to people in CLA thriving, staying, and having the full impact that they can have with their research, teaching, engagement, and service. 

Thriving, staying, and having full impact matter to us all. 

Thriving, staying, and having full impact matter to our students. Our students were brought here to succeed. They were admitted because it was determined they could succeed. If one identifies equity gaps in one’s classes, or if a department sees overall patterns of equity gaps, possible factors can be brought to the table. Perhaps we have a lack of faculty diversity. Maybe our teaching methods need to be updated to match the research on inclusive learning. Could be that our curriculum seems remote and disconnected to a sizable portion of our students. And so on. The equity gap is everyone’s issue. CLA advisors do amazing work to help our students succeed, but the equity gap is not their challenge alone. 

Thriving, staying, and having full impact matter to our staff and faculty. Unit climate is key in all three -- thriving, staying, impact. Concerns around participation and governance, non-collegial behavior, bullying, a lack of a welcoming and inclusive environment, and other deleterious behavior can show up in numerous ways and dramatically affect the ability of our staff, faculty, and students to thrive. Where these challenges occur, they can be general or they can appear most strongly in areas of rank (within faculty and staff, and between faculty and staff) or in aspects of identity including gender, race, religion, where members of a unit may not feel fully and equitably involved and rewarded in the life of the unit. A number of our units are addressing these issues and college offices, in particular Human Resources and Faculty and Academic Affairs, have been assisting the efforts. 

Both of these issues -- the equity gap and unit climate -- will be areas on which we will seek improvement during the coming year. Both are united by our commitment to create an environment that provides faculty, staff, and students with the opportunity to thrive. In both, providing faculty and staff with the resources and tools to help us improve will be critical.

CLA is a strong college full of talented people doing noble work. And that work, as we engage with our communities and community partners, has profound positive impact. As we reduce and eliminate the equity gap and improve unit climate, we position ourselves to produce even more positive good in our disciplines and in our communities. 

For all of you who joined us at the DEI Summit, thank you again for your ideas and engagement. And to all of you, thank you for your continuing commitment to the core values of CLA as stated in our Constitution: "freedom of thought and expression; respect, diversity, and social justice; excellence in all we do; and efficiency and adaptability in the achievement of our mission."