University moves forward with strategy on diversity and inclusion

Administrators say they are carrying out several plans of actions in and outside the classroom

University moves forward with strategy on diversity and inclusion

Students, faculty and administrators gathered in the Katzen Arts Center on Sept. 20 to discuss issues of racism on campus.

The Office of Campus Life and Office of the Provost are working to take administrative action to address issues of racism, diversity, inclusivity and safety on campus, as announced through a memorandum late last month.

Dr. Gail Hanson, the Vice President of the Office of Campus Life, and Provost Scott Bass issued the memorandum to the campus community, titled “Toward Greater Inclusion: Reflecting on What We Have Heard and Next Steps.” The memo consists of 11 administrative action steps and outlines how the action steps will be developed.

AU’s 10 year strategic plan, initiated by AU President Neil Kerwin in 2008 and now in its last phase, also included plans to improve campus inclusion, according to Hanson.

“Most of what the provost and I outlined here is work in progress and would have been reflected under prior goals anyway or they were in our work plan for example in the annual review of the conduct code,” Hanson said

The memo also referenced the initial strategic plan, though Hanson and Bass admitted in the message that it needed to be updated.

“We recognize the need to update and build upon our initial plan to improve campus inclusion with new action steps that promptly address what we have recently heard,” the memo said.

The action plans are a response to student demands that were made at the town hall following incidents of racial bias on Sept. 19 and previous demands from last spring.

“I hope the community takes some assurance in the fact that last spring’s events were not set aside, that they put in motion very thoughtful work that will be refined and put into practice in the next months and years,” Hanson said in an interview.

Hanson and the Student Conduct Advisory Committee, a group composed of students, staff and administrators, will be reviewing the student conduct code process as it relates to acts of racism and bias and will be considering ways to implement restorative justice for bias related incidents, according to the memo.

Since the memo was released, staff in the Office of Campus Life have begun contacting colleagues at other institutions to research and collect best practices, according to Hanson. Hanson and the Advisory Committee are seeking to reach the broader AU community audience to address changes and make recommendations through roundtable discussions.

“We are considering a roundtable including the advisory committee as well as other interested student leaders so we can have a deeper conversation than we can have in an open forum but involve more voices in a meaningful way,” she said.

Though action plan developments are underway, implementation and changes to the conduct process will likely not occur until next semester or the beginning of the following school year, according to Hanson.

“The earliest we ever do anything is the beginning of the next semester,” Hanson said. “We don't make changes mid- semester usually, because it is confusing to people. With things like the conduct codes and protocols, generally we do it annually.”

Faculty Diversity

The Provost’s office outlined concerns and action plans regarding the hiring of more faculty of color, increasing programing for faculty on unconscious bias training, implementing required curriculum about race, culture and inclusion for students, as well as expanding the diversity of course offerings especially about topics related to Africa.

The University is also working to increase tenure-track faculty of color positions, according to Bass.

If the search is successful, new faculty would be present next fall. If not, the University would readvertise and begin another search for the following year.

“In the last two years, about 20 percent of the pool have been faculty of color. In addition to the traditional practice of hiring, we have identified five additional positions that we would hope to fill with additional faculty of color,” Bass added. “There is no question we want to do more. We have talked about this for a long time. We have acted on it every year. We have a long way to go if you are talking about a handful every year.”’

Bass stressed a need to improve the student experience and ensure students are respected and included at AU. This would be in part conducted through courses called AU Experience 1 and 2. AUx1 is aimed at adjusting and transitioning to the college environment and AUx2 focuses on identity, diversity and inclusion. AUx1 is being piloted this fall and AUx2 will be piloted next semester. Both of the courses are mandatory and fulfill new core curriculum requirements.

“That will expand to more than 40 sections next year. The following year it will implemented for all new students. In terms of student involvement, there will be open forums on the subject,” Bass said.

Curriculum Changes

Students at September’s town hall expressed frustration that AU curriculum was not reflective of global views and lacked curriculum about issues of race. In SIS, students said, the school lacked courses about Africa and non-western focused courses.

In response, administrators are developing ways to bring faculty with knowledge of Africa and who are spread in different departments at AU together to provide more opportunities and access to more non-western curriculum.

“It turns out we do have existing faculty with that as a specialization and with pretty deep knowledge of Africa,” Bass said. “They are not just in SIS they are scattered in different schools and colleges or teaching graduate level. That is a dialogue with the Deans in terms of moving those courses so they are both identified accurately and known to students it is about Africa.”

The Provost’s office and AU Library staff are working on ways to categorize courses based on thematic areas such as race, diversity or social justice, so students can identify and choose courses.

“In the new core curriculum, any course that deals with diversity that includes race would be listed in the catalogue with a Diversity label. There would be an additional requirements for all students to take at least one Diversity course sometime during the three or four years.

There is quite a lot available,” Bass said.

If new courses were to be developed, courses would be available next fall as the spring semester courses are already planned, according to Bass.

“It takes time to move that into course offerings at the appropriate level because we already term scheduled spring course offerings, ” Bass said. “In terms of building that into the regular curriculum, the earliest that would be transparent is next fall. I don't think that is insurmountable.”

Financial Aid

Students expressed concern that the allocation of financial aid every year changed, making the University difficult to afford and inaccessible.

The memo included a plan to maintain stable financial aid allocations throughout students’ time at AU and improve assistance for students with need.

“Financial aid is calculated every year, the question is can it be done in a way that accommodates an increased cost of attendance. It depends on the budget, depends on the tuition increase,” Bass added. “The cost of the University simply goes up every year due to federal regulations and requirements. AU is a tuition dependent institution. One of the areas that tuition does cover is financial aid. We use the revenue and we set aside a percentage of money that goes directly back to students’ financial aid.”

In attempts to provide additional financial assistance, the University library has purchased 631 of the most expensive textbooks and placed them on loan, increased funds for study abroad and internships and is exploring the option of an on campus Food Bank, according to the memo.

“This year is the first where 100 percent of financial need has been offered to 100 percent of all those eligible,” as stated in the memo.To do this, the University reduced transfer student aid and reduction in merit awards for students and 80 percent of money previously paid for small merit scholarships went to student financial aid, according to Bass.

“We are one of 90 institutions that have promised to meet that 100 percent of need that is determined,” said Bass. This year we are meeting 100 percent of need to everyone we made an offer to.”

The memo also included the newly established President’s Council on Diversity and Inclusion, a council made up of AU faculty, students, staff and alumni intended to make recommendations, gather student input and provide updates on diversity and inclusion at AU.

Both Hanson and Bass feel the content of the memo and what is already in motion are reflective of the commitment of University administrators and staff to address inclusion and diversity on campus.

“Unless we build an inclusive community all you have really done is brought people to the table but not involved them in a real way and that remains a challenge. I accept that challenge and I think students are correct in addressing it,” Bass said.

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