Diversity Initiative Aims to Help All See We're Part of Same Fabric

photo from committee retreat

The pieces of a new diversity and inclusion initiative at Eastern Kentucky University might be many, but the whole is a campus where everyone understands “we’re all part of the same fabric.”

As the University’s interim chief diversity officer, Dr. Sherwood Thompson is heading up a new Institutional Diversity and Inclusion Planning Committee, a 30-member team comprised of faculty, staff and students from a cross-section of campus, whose goal is to develop a plan that will “positively impact the entire University.” The Committee held an initial retreat recently to discuss its goals and objectives and plan its work.

The Committee’s “first order of business,” Thompson said, is to “develop a workable vocabulary so everyone is using the same language. The committee must solidify our definition of diversity, equity and inclusion, and from there determine how to communicate this definition to the entire campus community.”

Thompson said it’s critical that definition be as broadly based as possible, encompassing ethnicity, gender, ageism, ableism, and sexual orientation, among other identities.

“Our goal is to develop a sustainable diversity plan that will foster greater awareness and enhance harmony on campus,” Thompson said. “We want to send a signal that our primary goal is to sustain Eastern as a welcoming and inclusive community.”

The Committee’s work is also part of an effort to centralize diversity initiatives on campus, “so that we are all singing in the same choir,” Thompson said.

Dr. Sara Zeigler, dean of University Programs and a member of the Committee, said the Committee approached the retreat with “extraordinary energy and optimism.”

Its challenge, she added, is “recognizing that fairness and complying with the law is the minimum standard. We can do much better than this.”

The opportunity, Zeigler said, “lies in the nexus of academic excellence, employer expectations and student needs. Everything demands that our students, faculty and staff be able to navigate difference adeptly – that they can not only express appreciation for others, but act upon these values.”

The Committee is charged with:

·         reviewing, evaluating and developing recommendations for establishing an institutional diversity program with clear and measurable goals.

·         establishing specific goals to increase diversity awareness and involvement among students, staff, faculty and alumni.

·         developing a sustainable diversity plan that aligns with the University’s Strategic Plan and external accreditation agencies’ diversity requirements.

·         developing initiatives that address international students and faculty with the aim of identifying and recommending global educational opportunities.

·         identifying strategies for increasing diversity hires among faculty and staff at all levels of the university.

Building on the “foundation of what has been established” at Eastern, the Committee will research exemplary programs across the nation in order to glean best practices, Thompson said.

Two campus-wide Diversity Summits this semester will provide opportunities for input by all members of the campus community. The Committee plans to present a draft of recommendations to President Michael Benson by July 1.

Anticipating the fruits of the Committee’s work, Zeigler said: “Ideally, we would see faculty and staff from a variety of backgrounds, students who routinely take courses that incorporate diversity, engage in applied work that requires them to operate within a different cultural context, and an environment in which concerns are raised promptly and addressed thoroughly and equitably. We have many of those elements in place, but this group can make EKU a model.”

Published on February 12, 2015

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