Cuyahoga Community College Moves Beyond Diversity to Focus on Inclusion

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Diversity isn’t a new concept at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, Ohio. The school has had a diversity officer for 23 years, several African American members on its leadership team — both male and female — and a variety of student groups dedicated to the cause. But now, Cuyahoga — often referred to by the community as Tri-C — is aiming higher, with its sights set
on inclusion.

“Diversity is at the core of this university and the people we serve,” says Deborale Richardson-Phillips, district director of diversity and inclusion for the college. “But for many people, diversity is about the numbers. How many African Americans do you have? How many Latinos?  But we’re more concerned with what happens once [students] get here. That’s inclusiveness.”

One of the initiatives that’s helping Tri-C reach its new goal is the Sustained Dialogue Campus Network (SDCN), which is an extension of the national Sustained Dialogue Institute. The organization’s mission is to develop leaders who engage differences as strengths to improve campuses, workplaces, and communities.

Through the combined efforts of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the Global Issues Resource Collaborative — an on-campus group that fosters citizen responsibility by cultivating a global perspective on issues affecting the world — the dialogue network made its way to Tri-C in 2011.

Tri-C is currently the only community college in the nation involved in the program, alongside prominent institutions such as Harvard University and Princeton University. Three of the college’s four campuses now participate in the SDCN, and all students, faculty, staff, and administrators are encouraged to get involved.

“Our students are engaged in diversity at a grassroots level,” Richardson-Phillips says. “This program is a way for them to talk about diversity and take action. They don’t just sit around and gripe about the issues — they do something about them.”

Since 2011, the SDCN’s work has included implementing an annual LGBT and U.S. community engagement event on campus and holding public dialogues and diversity workshops to discuss misogynistic language, among other topics. However, one of the SDCN’s greatest accomplishments has been its effort to increase enrollment of Spanish-speaking Hispanic students by translating the school’s academic forms and other materials into Spanish.

This initiative will help make higher education more accessible to these students, many of whom, according to Richardson-Phillips, are the first in their family to attend college. These translations will provide a way for parents to become more involved in their children’s education.

“It’s a huge idea,” she says. “The students have sought the aid of the Hispanic Council on campus; they’re looking to get the documents translated, [and] they’re truly engaging the community and working to bring the plan to [fruition].”

Although she considers diversity to be “the unfinished business of the nation” — and something she believes will always be an issue in the U.S. — Richardson-Phillips is thrilled with the direction in which Tri-C is headed.

“I’ve been here for a little over two years, and I’ve already seen and experienced the transformative state we’re in,” she says.●

Madeline Szrom is a contributing writer for INSIGHT Into Diversity. Cuyahoga Community College is a 2013 and 2014 INSIGHT Into Diversity HEED Award recipient.