By Sophie Foster
The latest in Washington College’s series of diversity, equity, and inclusion forums transpired on Monday, Oct. 24 in Hynson Lounge, this time focused on the social science departments and moderated as usual by Associate Provost of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Senior Equity Officer, and Associate Professor of English Dr. Alisha Knight in partnership with Vice President for Planning and Policy and Chief of Staff Victor Sensenig.
According to Dr. Knight, the focused endeavor of building programming and plans for addressing DEI thoroughly “is a framework…[and] is being developed and utilized at several institutions.”
Dr. Knight wants the perspective on DEI at WC to be broad and complex, encompassing people of color, all sexualities, all gender identities, all socioeconomic backgrounds, with disabilities, and of other marginalized groups.
Those at work on the strategic diversity plan “want to make sure all stakeholders have the opportunity to see the draft,” Dr. Knight said.
Attended by a range of students and faculty affiliated with the social sciences, the forum was opened for discussion with the question of where progress is already evident within the social sciences on campus.
According to the discussion among the attendees, areas where they’ve witnessed success include the requirement for diverse research implemented in some professors’ courses, the promotion of experiential learning in such a way that students with financial need are provided with resources, a diversified hiring process, work done to encourage talking explicitly about race in classroom discussion, opportunities to think about pedagogy through an equity-oriented lens, the conscious choice to move in the direction of less expensive textbooks and materials, and the establishment of inclusive curriculum.
“I am thrilled with the commitment to and focus on DEI by this administration which goes beyond ‘lip service,’” Associate Professor and Chair of History Dr. Janet Sorrentino said, adding that she is “grateful for Dr. Knight in that endeavor.”
Assistant Professor of Education and Director of the Museum, Field, and Community Education Minor Dr. Sara Clarke-De Reza attended the forum, as well.
“I have seen an increased attention around diversity and equity in professional development opportunities offered by the college, particularly through the Center for Teaching and Learning,” Dr. Clarke-De Reza said. “I also hear more students discussing the ways in which individual professors have worked to ensure a wider range of perspectives are present in their curriculum materials. Personally, I’ve worked each semester to further diversify my reading list, and now provide biographical information about each author we read to help students better understand where they’re coming from, and what experiences have likely shaped their perspectives.”
In terms of improving the social sciences’ work in the realm of DEI, the first direction attention turned in was redoubling efforts associated with the places success has already been achieved on some level. This includes working to hire more diverse faculty, revamping curriculum to better address DEI in the classroom, and providing academic spaces to discuss what occurs on campus in relation to DEI.
“I certainly would reinforce the messages of needing support and resources for accommodating diverse learning styles and physical needs,” Dr. Sorrentino said, emphasizing the need for “better community connections so that students and faculty feel safe and welcome in Kent County, following best strategies for hiring diverse faculty and recruiting diverse student body, as well as focusing on what needs to be done to make them welcome.”
In addition to working to further preestablished efforts, conversation pushed forward to consider the need for heightened physical accessibility in classroom spaces, offering mentorship for students who may be or feel marginalized on campus, extending support to new diverse hires to ensure their comfortability, and designing courses and providing resources to students with dyslexia, autism, ADHD, and other disabilities that may pose challenges to them.
“I think one growth area for our College is to provide more support to students who are neurodiverse,” Dr. Clarke-De Reza said. “From a faculty perspective, this mostly means providing training on how to create course content that is universally accessible and accommodating for learners of all kinds.”
The idea was also presented that the departments work to find ways to better locate and share paid internships for those who cannot afford to work unpaid, and hopefully make a return to smaller class sizes to leave time for these important dialogues.
“Pursuing Inclusive Excellence: a Five-Year Strategic Plan for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion,” the College’s strategic diversity plan, is currently being drafted based, in part, on the forum series. A working draft of the plan is accessible to the entire WC community through Sensenig’s OneDrive.
The next forum is scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 3 in Hynson Lounge and will discuss DEI in student engagement and leadership, including the Student Government Association, campus clubs and organizations, and other pertinent areas. Students and members of the campus community are invited to join. Attendees can share reflections, questions, comments, and concerns via Qualtrics survey at https://washcoll.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_ewJSxTRwIUejuuO.