Diversity and Inclusion
We are all familiar with the Black Lives Matter, #DACA and #MeToo crusades. They are a few of the several groundbreaking social movements that have emerged recently, putting a spotlight on the very critical, but not mutually exclusive concepts of diversity and inclusion. Aided by powerful social media tools, our awareness of issues surrounding diversity and inclusion is greater than ever. As a result, communities, companies, organizations, schools, and institutions of higher learning are re-examining and re-focusing their efforts in this crucial area.
At Bay Path, it’s important to recognize that diversity and inclusion initiatives began as a Vision 2019 imperative with the overarching question asking, “How do we create a community that firmly embraces diversity and inclusion?” This was in direct response to the changing composition of Bay Path’s student population. Our students now represent a spectrum of differing backgrounds, values and beliefs—just like America. It is not enough to give them access to classrooms and experiential opportunities. Bay Path must build a culture that says to students, “…you belong here,” and lets them know we are behind them to ensure that failure is not an option.
The First Steps
In early November 2015, President Carol Leary established a diversity and inclusion Task Force consisting of members from across the Bay Path community. Under the leadership of Provost Dr. Melissa Morriss-Olson, the group developed a Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Action Plan with eight identified goals on a number of key levels, including: creating a culture that promotes and ensures safety, respect, and inclusion; implementing professional development and training; strengthening recruitment, retention and persistence of students from diverse backgrounds; and engaging key leadership and the Board of Trustees to ensure top-down support.
The last goal has particular importance since meaningful change with diversity and inclusion on the Bay Path campus depends on the full support of the Board of Trustees.
The Board is on Board
From the beginning, Bay Path’s Board of Trustees took ownership of the initiative. Workshops, structured conversations, and special sessions were held with Dr. Amir Ahmed, a social justice educator and consultant, and Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, president emerita of Spelman College and author of Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? The Board’s role cannot be underestimated. In fact, according to Peter Eckel and Cathy Trower, authors of Boards and Institutional Diversity: Missed Opportunities, Points of Leverage, “…boards have a unique ability to address diversity issues because they can avoid the immediate and focus on the important, take a long-term view, and bring fresh perspectives from beyond the academy.” With the attention on diversity and inclusion established at the board level, in October 2016 a 21-member University Diversity and Inclusion Council was created, inheriting the charge of the Task Force. The Council serves as a standing group to initiate, monitor, and assess programs, policies, and procedures that align with the eight goals.
Another key partner with the Council is the Office of Multicultural Affairs and Office of Student Affairs.
Throughout the year, the Office of Multicultural Affairs plans and presents events, such as the Black History Month Symposium, and serves as a clearinghouse and gathering space for all students. The Office of Student Affairs provides workshops for student leaders and supports clubs and organizations in their efforts to connect and engage all members of the community. All these groups work, and will continue to work, in concert to create positive changes in the Bay Path environment that values access, opportunity, and support for all.
All in the Community
The Diversity and Inclusion Council is comprised of faculty, students and staff, and also two subcommittees focusing on educational and training opportunities for faculty and staff. The latter is critical because the faculty and staff are the faces of Bay Path. More than anyone else, they inherit the cultural pluses and minuses of the institution. From the beginning, staff and faculty participated in interactive sessions introducing the concepts of implicit bias: what it is, why it happens, and how it affects our interactions with others, as well as understanding the various labels we apply to ourselves and others in our everyday lives.