By Sophie Foster
The diversity, equity, and inclusion forum series, which ran for the duration of the fall 2022 semester, came to a close with its final two forums centered around alumni relations and talent management, respectively.
This series, conceptualized by Associate Provost of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Senior Equity Officer, and Associate Professor of English Dr. Alisha Knight, was designed to give the Washington College community the opportunity to vocalize insights into campus inclusivity in order to better approach the Strategic Diversity Plan moving forward.
Held in Hynson Lounge on Monday, Nov. 28 and Thursday, Dec. 1, the last of these forums were attended by a broad range of students and faculty interested in contributing to the ongoing effort to increase the equitability of WC.
According to Dr. Knight, who positions herself as “a neutral listener” in the case of these forums, this is “a plan that assigns responsibility.”
Dr. Knight identified decades of records of this effort being an ambition of the College, but specified the protest and list of grievances headed by the Black Student Union in March 2020 as the moment that jumpstarted the process she now leads.
Endorsement of the new Strategic Diversity Plan will be pursued in February 2023, but before this pursuit is approached, it was important to “[make] sure that everybody has a chance to view the draft,” Dr. Knight said.
At each forum, Dr. Knight first asked attendees to pinpoint areas in which substantial improvement was observed in this department. Those present noticed, on the broad scale, features such as increased attention devoted to inclusivity in teaching practices, the diversification of syllabi, and more intentional engagement in dialogue surrounding DEI.
According to Production Manager of the Department of Theatre and Dance Abbey Wark ’18, “everyone is entering these conversations from a different level of experience and knowledge surrounding the options we have to go forward. Setting a clear framework to have these conversations and acknowledging/encouraging learning to happen while we are improving will create a stronger team and productive environment to reach goals.”
Associate Professor of Art History and Department Chair Dr. Benjamin Tilghman said that professors’ view of campus is limited by the fact that they don’t live on campus as the students do. According to Dr. Tilghman, a lot of the progress he’s seen has been in the classroom, such as the diversification of subject matter, new readings that consider inclusivity, and increased effort to bring diverse speakers to campus.
“We need to diversify the faculty, but that is a slow process, since tenured faculty tend to stay around for a long time,” Dr. Tilghman said. “But, in the meantime, we need to be diversifying our curriculum, which can be done by people of any background.”
The safe space provided by the newly renovated Intercultural Center in Minta Martin Hall was also suggested as a critical component of the College, as was naming Morris Hall after the first Black graduate of WC, Thomas Morris ’62.
Those present at either of the forums also reflected on the increase in female leadership of the Board of Visitors and Governors, the diversification of volunteers, and better work done in the Student Government Association to handle relationships with relevant groups, such as alumni.
This work done by students is integral to continued development in this process, according to Research and Instruction Librarian Alex Baker.
“The student body has been a great source of momentum for creating a more inclusive community,” Baker said. “The prolonged periods of quarantine, truths about ongoing, global genocide, and the shared feelings of loss and uncertainty have presented us all with opportunities to tackle the difficult work of dismantling, destroying, and reimagining systems designed only to support privileged few.”
According to Baker, the College is now being asked to respond to these concerns beyond lip service through initiatives such as peer mentors, the Bias Education Response Team, WACSquared, and Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) trainings. Baker also noted events like the Human Library, NonConFormal, and these DEI forums as signifiers of important work being done.
The opportunity also arose, however, to relate concerns about the handling of DEI at the College, areas in which improvement is needed, and recommendations for approaching said improvement.
Several participants outlined concerns about mentor figures being an inaccurate representation of the diversity of the student population, a need for a greater sense of belonging throughout the community, and a lack of engagement with the broader campus beyond personal clubs and connections.
“I think a really helpful tool for both students and faculty [and] staff would be providing more transparency [and] resources about the College’s protocols on communicating a concern and the process of how that concern is moved through the system and can expect to be responded to. In addition to providing support resources for all parties involved in the situation,” Wark said.
In the case of the alumni forum, the issue of alumni perspectives on DEI initiatives as they relate to the nationwide narrative about diversity was addressed. Attendees discussed the necessity of engaging alumni in a way that convinces them to value the work being done and educates them on why the work is integral to WC’s mission as an institution.
Additionally, the groups devoted time to the consideration of the importance of identifying traditions, being clear about how progress is defined, and recognizing that this is gradual work.
Ideas for ways these qualms can be factored into the strategic diversity approach included mandated implicit bias training and work devoted specifically to improving alumni relations.
“It’s important that we continue to work backward from ideal solutions to bring forth the desired, shared realities we all deserve,” Baker said.
According to Dr. Knight, if everyone isn’t holding themselves accountable, success cannot be achieved.
Those interested in sharing their perspectives on this enduring conversation can do so via the Qualtrics survey, https://washcoll.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_ewJSxTRwIUejuuO.
Photo by Sophie Foster
Photo Caption: Dr. Knight addresses participants in the DEI forum to discuss alumni-based efforts.