By Sophie Foster
After the fall semester’s series of diversity, equity, and inclusion forums, the final draft of Washington College’s new strategic diversity plan was shared with students on Jan. 27 and is pending campuswide review and approval.
The creation of the plan, formally titled “Pursuing Inclusive Excellence: A Five-Year Strategic Plan for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” was predominantly spearheaded by Associate Provost of Diversity and Inclusion, Senior Equity Officer, and Associate Professor of English Dr. Alisha Knight.
According to Dr. Knight, this plan, informed in part by the fall semester’s DEI forum series, now awaits endorsement from several major College organizations, including the faculty, the Student Government Association, the staff, and the Board of Visitors and Governors, meetings which will take place on Feb. 6, 14, 21, and 24, respectively.
If the response to the plan from these groups is positive, the next step will be the development of implementation plans, according to Dr. Knight.
“This has to be campuswide,” Dr. Knight said, indicating a need for individual departments to have further conversations internally.
According to Dr. Knight, her role will be focusing on developing a plan and strategy for the implementation of this plan in academic affairs.
The strategic diversity plan as it now stands, according to Dr. Knight, is not a living document in the sense that it will continue to be reworded, but in the sense that adjustments may need to be made in the future and after further review.
“These types of plans are never really finished or final,” Dr. Knight said. “We need to start somewhere and have something to work toward.”
Included in that starting point, according to Dr. Knight, is the implicit goal of establishing that the College is going to take efforts to make the campus more diverse and be more intentional about its DEI endeavors, as opposed to past years where the initiative has paused because of a lack of clear strategy.
Dr. Knight defines this as a commitment to doing this work in a way it has not been done before on an institutional level, setting expectations to be followed moving forward.
Part of this forward motion means acknowledging that some changes will take more time than others, meaning that they will not all occur in the time frame of a student’s tenure at the College, according to Dr. Knight.
“We have a five year plan, and students are here for four years,” Dr. Knight said. “that doesn’t mean the College is not working to accomplish these goals or that their input is not important.”
Additionally, Dr. Knight noted that students’ persistance in answering questions is a way of holding administration accountable for the continuation of this work.
“When students are vocal, it matters,” Dr. Knight said.
One aspect of this vocality was participation in the forum series last semester, which demonstrated to Dr. Knight that “the scope of the work that was needed was much broader than anticipated.”
According to Dr. Knight, these forums served to bring people together who wanted to come together, and to give them a space to talk about their experiences.
Before the forums came several other instances of campus vocality drawing attention to the issue of DEI at WC. This specific line of conversation, according to the plan, began with the Nov. 2019 call to action issued by students regarding transparancy about Title IX cases, followed by the Feb. 2020 protest and letter of demands and grievances shared by the Black Student Union.
Endeavors following these advocacy efforts included former President of the College Kurt Landgraf’s May 2020 action statement, former Interim President of the College Wayne Powell’s spring 2021 task of the establishment of the strategic diversity plan, a different forum series held in spring 2021, and the naming of Dr. Knight as Associate Provost of Diversity and Inclusion and Senior Equity Officer in spring 2022 preceding her forum series.
Based on this continual dialogue, the plan stated five key goals for the College: to work to make the campus culture, climate, and civic engagement efforts more inclusive and informed; to encourage our students, faculty, and staff to engage in inclusive teaching, research, scholarship, and creative work; to increase the diversity of students, staff, faculty, and BVG; to support the well-being of all campus constituents who have been underserved; and to Ensure that our facilities, internal policies, public facing information, and experiential learning opportunities are accessible and equitable.
“I recognize that it is not perfect, but that does not mean that it is not what we need for this moment in time,” Dr Knight said. “We really need to put some structures in place so that the institution becomes much more adept at addressing issues…even if some resources still need to be identified and more conversation needs to happen.”
Elm Archive Photo
Photo Caption: The Asterisk Initiative, launched in 2021, is one of the College’s most recent efforts to promote an equitable environment.