By Jack Martinek
During the week of April 24, 2017, the three final candidates for the newly minted position of Assistant Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion presented to an open audience of students and faculty.
These three hour-long presentations represent a milestone moment on a years-long mission undertaken by the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. That mission started with the recognition that issues of inequity and exclusion must be acknowledged to be addressed, which led to the decision—in 2013—to execute a new Campus Climate Survey which was ultimately conducted in early 2015. The results came from 3,847 students and faculty respondents. After analysis, the initial results were released and presented in May 2016 (link to http://www.uwec.edu/cc/results.htm).
UWEC Chancellor James Schmidt summed up the findings succinctly in the title of his blog on Friday, May 6, 2016: “Campus Climate Survey shows we have much room for improvement.” With “Diversity and Inclusiveness” one of four stated values in the 2016-20 UWEC Strategic Plan (link to http://www.uwec.edu/Chancellor/stratPlan/index.htm) and the new survey, a path forward seems to be taking shape.
Dr. Melissa Bonstead-Bruns, the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Department of Sociology Chair and one of two current EDI Fellows at the university, said this strategic dedication is significant. “Any time an institution is willing to document its commitment to a particular plan, I believe it signals the seriousness with which that commitment is taken. It sends a signal that the University is truly prepared to put time, work, and resources into the plan.”
As a measure of that commitment to time, work, and resources, the new Assistant Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion will be part of the Chancellor’s executive leadership team. He or she will directly oversee campus-wide initiatives for an equitable, inclusive and safe university for all its students, faculty, and staff, especially those of marginalized identities. They will also work collaboratively with the Vice Chancellors for Academic Affairs and Student Affairs.
Three candidates are currently under consideration, representing the depth of the growing EDI professional field. During their recent presentations, all of them touched on issues that have been highlighted in the Climate Survey, and expressed by active students at the university.
The Marginalized Student and Staff Experience
For example, among the findings highlighted last year during the Climate Survey Report presentation were that among students of color, the incidences that were most commonly reported were being stared at, being a target of racial profiling, and being ignored. Amongst women, the most common were receiving derogatory remarks, being stared at, being bullied, and being the target of unwanted physical contact. Amongst LGBTQ students, the most common reports were of derogatory remarks, being stared at, and being ignored. And amongst students with mental health issues, the most common instances reported were being bullied, being the target of derogatory remarks, and being the target of unwanted physical contact. Bonstead-Bruns says these reports of bias paint a very clear picture of the difficulties marginalized students and staff experience on campus. “They provide incontrovertible evidence that UW-Eau Claire is not as friendly, welcoming, and fair to some individuals as it is to others. This, however, is not unique to UW-Eau Claire. Unfortunately, it appears to be the norm across campuses in the U.S.”
All three candidates discussed leading-edge theories and practices for creating more equitable, diverse and inclusionary campus climates, reviewed their own experiences in the field, and took questions from audience members.
Intentional, Institution, Incentivized Diversity and Inclusion
During his open forum presentation on April 24, 2017, candidate Bryan D. Samuel, Ph.D., CCDP/AP, currently serving as Director, Office of Equity and Diversity, at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, began his remarks by talking about the need to make campus diversity and inclusion intentional, institutional, and incentivized. “We have to have this place where all people, without regard to their background, can see themselves credibly. They are valued, they are respected. They have every opportunity for full ownership in everything the campus offers… Diversity and inclusion have to be intentional, institutional, and incentivized. When we say intentional, it’s a resource and a priority. We cannot prepare students for a global world, competing globally, if we don’t value diversity.”
Supporting and Learning Through Sustained Dialogue
During her open forum presentation on April 26, candidate Tamara A. Johnson, Ph.D., currently serving as Director, Faculty Diversity Initiatives and Special Projects, at the University of Chicago, stressed that equity, diversity, and inclusion are unique components, and that there are different constituencies on each campus needing to be served by unique solutions. She talked about the need to create a sustained dialogue with students, emphasizing the opportunity of the classroom setting. “The point is to really get students engaged in conversation about issues. One of the things we know is that when people have an opportunity to really talk, either individually or in small groups, then they get the opportunity to really get to know other people… Sustained dialogue is really a good chance for people to come together have these conversations, to get to know each other, to be able to hear these differences in a relatively safer environment.”
Balancing Strategic Thinking and Creative Leadership
David M. Jones, Ph.D., currently serving as Director, Graduate Studies and Professor, Department of English, at the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire, and a former Campus Fellow for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusivity (2012-2015), talked in his April 28 open forum presentation about the need and opportunity to balance strategic planning on EDI and the educational responsibility to creatively approach informing, leading, and including people coming to the issue from different starting points. “There’s a lot of struggle, there’s a heart side to all of this work that we do in EDI, and going back and forth from the heart side to the more heady paradigm/schema/strategic planning side, that’s one balance that we strike in this work. But there’s also the balance between these social conflicts and the creativity and insight that we bring to thinking about these issues. This is a core part of American democracy, this is a core part of our global world.”
Until the selection is finalized, no further details of the process or timing could be discussed by selection committee members. But for now, the campus Climate Survey is set with a strategic mission, and a set of goals. The new Assistant Chancellor will have much to assess, the full will of the University behind him or her, and the hopes of many marginalized students riding on their ability to turn theories and best practices into a roadmap for meaningful progress.