Update on Inclusion and Diversity Search and Initiatives

TO: Faculty, Staff and Students
FROM: Cheryl McConnell, Ph.D., Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs
RE: Update on Inclusion and Diversity Search and Initiatives

As we begin the semester, I write to update the community on our inclusion and diversity initiatives and to share information on our renewed search for a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) leader. In my first few months on campus, I met and heard from so many people committed to these efforts. I am encouraged by and proud of the earnest work to address and maintain progress on these important initiatives.

Plans and Progress
As a relative newcomer to our community, I was pleased to learn that last year was not just a year of reports and planning; it was also a year of significant action in all areas of the University. Using the Racial Bias Taskforce Action Plan, the Inclusive Excellence Blueprint and the Climate Study Report, we’ve made improvements in our bias activity response protocol; modified reporting and training in our student life division; expanded embedded programs for all incoming students and faculty; and enhanced professional development opportunities for faculty to create more inclusive classrooms and to develop antiracist and intersectional pedagogical practices.

In addition to ongoing initiatives, we continue to seek ways to grow and challenge our understanding of diversity, equity and inclusion through significant events and programming. One such event will be “A Day of Learning on Catholic Social Teaching and Racism – Open Wide our Hearts,” on Sept. 26, hosted by the Faith-Justice Institute, the Office of Inclusion and Diversity, and the Office of Teaching and Learning, featuring Dr. Shawnee Daniels-Sykes, professor of theology and ethics at Mount Mary University.

Additionally, Wadell Ridley, our interim chief diversity and inclusion officer, is now finalizing our Academic Year 19/20 initiatives, and he will be creating a way to keep the community updated on progress, initiatives and events. A full listing of initiatives and action plans will soon be available on the Office of Inclusion and Diversity website.

Search Update
Amidst all of the work being done throughout our campus community, we are also beginning the search for our next DEI leader. Over the summer, we carefully reexamined the University’s needs, paying particular attention to progress made, challenges yet to be met, and reflections regarding the initial search. Based on our reflections and consultations with the University leadership team, the Search Committee, the Office of Inclusion and Diversity, and other Jesuit colleges and universities, we have updated the position description and modified the title to be Associate Provost for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. You will notice that the word equity is now included in the title and responsibilities. Equity is an important term which requires strategies to ensure that everyone has access to the same opportunities and rewards – it is an essential component of inclusion and diversity. The successful candidate will be a key member of the Provost’s Council and the University Leadership Council. The associate provost will be responsible for creating a Strategic Plan for Inclusive Excellence, including goal setting, outcome metrics, ongoing communication and assessment.

In addition to position modifications, we have made two other important changes. We have formalized the role of faculty liaison for DEI, a position currently held by Dr. Janée Burkhalter, associate professor of marketing. This addition recognizes the need for a key partner who can focus on academic, curricular and faculty support. We have also provided an operating budget increase for the successful candidate to implement new initiatives without reducing existing programs.

As Dr. Reed noted in his University message, the search committee will be co-chaired by Dr. Burkhalter and Dr. Kim Allen-Stuck. All prior search committee members have graciously agreed to continue their work, with the only changes being student membership. We are beginning the search process right away, with the search firm partner Ellen Heffernan from Spelman Johnson. She is scheduled to be on campus on Sept. 20. The full schedule can be found here and requires Nest login. Please mark your calendars for the open meeting with the campus community from 1-2 p.m., in the Presidents’ Lounge of Campion Student Center. During this session, Ellen will be seeking feedback about the challenges and opportunities of the position, the characteristics of the ideal candidate, insights regarding our campus culture and takeaways from last semester’s search.

Similar to the webpage created to keep the community updated on DEI initiatives planned and completed, there will be an additional webpage created to keep the community informed on the search process. Both pages will be linked from the current OID website.

Special recognition and thanks to the professionals in our Office for Inclusion and Diversity, whose ongoing work is central to our mission. Additional thanks to members of the Racial Bias Task Force and the President’s Council on Inclusion and Diversity. Your hard work and commitment has laid the foundation for our current and future plans and actions. I urge our community at large to seek involvement in these initiatives. We all share a responsibility to advance the diversity, equity and inclusion goals that are integral to our Jesuit mission and essential for us all to meet the challenges of the world.