Mentoring, Training, and Service-Learning Guide Colleges’ Commitment to Inclusion

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The best colleges and universities understand that creating an inclusive campus goes beyond ensuring diverse student and employee populations. A truly inclusive campus is one where active and continuous engagement is facilitated among all students, faculty, staff, and administrators — allowing members of the community to learn from one another and grow together.

Venessa Brown (left) with members of SIUE’s Black Girls Rock! student organization

Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
At Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE), students, faculty, and staff have access to diversity and inclusion training 24/7, says Venessa A. Brown, PhD, associate chancellor for institutional diversity and inclusion.

While the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion (OIDI) — overseen by Brown — hosts frequent on-campus programs and trainings, it’s often difficult for all of those interested in attending to do so because of work and school obligations. “People always said that during the school and work day, they didn’t have access to our programs and trainings,” she says, “even though they [wanted] to attend.”

To better accommodate all members of the campus, the OIDI created the Diversity and Inclusion Online Learning Community, which allows all SIUE employees and students to complete online training — on topics such as identifying and reducing bias — as their schedules allow. The site provides information and resources on a wide variety of diversity-related topics, from campus services for student veterans to African American history. Users are also able to access and share articles and participate in discussion groups.

“We wanted to create a program where everyone could have access to diversity and inclusion resources and a safe space where they can ask questions or leave comments,” says Brown.

The website is just one of the many ways the OIDI has developed collaborative solutions to address the needs and challenges of SIUE’s dynamic community.

In 2013, after several students with disabilities expressed an interest in having faculty mentors, the OIDI and Disability Support Services developed the Faculty Mentoring Students with Disabilities Program (FMSDP). Participating students are assigned a mentor — typically an instructor within their major area of study — with whom they meet on a regular basis to discuss strategies for achieving academic success and future goals. Additionally, mentors inform students about events and organizations related to their discipline and encourage them to participate; such involvement helps them to better connect with the campus community and network with other faculty and their peers, according to an FMSDP brochure.

Many of the faculty and staff who volunteer to be mentors through the program do so because they have firsthand experience with disabilities or have close family members or friends who live with such impairments, according to Brown. In addition to participating in training hosted by the OIDI and Disability Support Services, this personal experience provides mentors with special insight into how to assist students who face accessibility issues and motivate them to be self-advocates.

“Our faculty and staff mentors really know how important it is to get involved in helping these students who are trying to earn their degrees,” she says. “There has been such enthusiasm that [FMSDP] has really blossomed.”

FMSDP was modeled after a similar endeavor by the OIDI — geared toward underrepresented populations — that provides mentorship and academic support for SIUE student-athletes, says Brown. The greatest benefit of such programs is that they provide individuals who may otherwise feel disconnected from the university community with an on-campus ally. Providing such personal support, Brown says, is necessary to help every student thrive at SIUE.

“We are a campus committed to diversity — not just through words, but through actions as well,” Brown says. “We try every day to be proactive in creating a place that is not only welcoming to all, but also supportive of all students’ [ability] to graduate and grow.”

University of Oklahoma
The University of Oklahoma (OU) takes a personal, in-depth approach when it comes to diversity education. The school’s Freshmen Diversity Experience is a three-hour training consisting of presentations and small-group discussions about bias, stereotypes, and awareness of differences. The University Community Office and the Southwest Center for Human Relations Studies partner to host the training, as well as to assess its impact by evaluating students’ attitudes before, during, and after the experience.

(From left to right) OU’s Special Assistant to the Vice President and Director of Operations D’Andre Fisher, Sen. Kevin Matthews, Sen. Anastasia Pittman, and OU’s Jabar Shumate at the opening session of OU’s 2017 George McLaurin and Sylvia A. Lewis Leadership Conferences on April 28

“Students might come in thinking ‘I can’t believe I have to be here for five hours,’ but they leave saying the experience changed their life,” says Jabar Shumate, the vice president of university community.

[Above: Jabar Shumate speaks with student workers in OU’s Office of University Community.]

For example, a young woman who was raised to be biased against LGBTQ individuals told him that she changed her perspective during one of the program’s small-group discussions after having a conversation with a student who is gay. Such transformation is not uncommon during the Freshmen Diversity Experience, says Shumate, because it provides a unique opportunity for students to talk openly about their identities and beliefs, as well as learn about individuals from different backgrounds and hear their perspectives. Since the event first launched two years ago, approximately 8,000 OU freshmen have participated, and Shumate says it has had a positive effect both on individuals and the overall campus climate.

In addition to facilitating opportunities for engagement among students, OU is committed to building an increasingly diverse student body through extensive recruitment initiatives focused on first-generation and minority students. One such program, the George McLaurin Leadership Initiative, invites high-achieving, first-generation, male high school students from Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Houston, and Dallas to attend a three-day conference at the university each spring. Named after the first African American student to attend OU, the initiative is designed to introduce these students — who are commonly from underprivileged or minority backgrounds — to the college environment.

The conference includes presentations from a national speaker and OU alumni, as well as opportunities to learn about strategies for college success from OU professors, students, and community leaders. Individuals who attend the conference not only learn about college life, but are also motivated to apply to the university, as their attendance at the event makes them eligible for merit-based scholarships offered by OU.

Recipients of these scholarships who enroll at OU participate in a college bridge program during their freshman and sophomore years that includes frequent study sessions and meetings with campus leaders. The initiative has been so successful — participants have a 91 percent first-year retention rate and an average GPA of 3.2, Shumate says — that the university created a similar program this year for first-generation female high school students this year. “We have seen amazing success for these young men and women,” he says.

These initiatives and more have resulted in the current freshman class being the most ethnically diverse in OU’s 127-year history, with 33 percent of students from minority backgrounds, says Shumate. Similarly, he says, OU has excelled at retaining these individuals — which he attributes to efforts by the entire campus community to support underrepresented students.

“My office is named University Community because we have a vision that diversity and inclusion is not just the responsibility of one office, but of every college, department, and person on campus,” Shumate says. “We see [diversity] as the cornerstone of the university.”

University of Louisville
At the University of Louisville (UofL) in Kentucky, each college and department is responsible for meeting institutional diversity goals, says Vice Provost for Diversity and International Affairs Mordean Taylor-Archer, PhD. One way UofL accomplishes this, she says, is by measuring and assessing its efforts — factors such as the enrollment and retention of minority students, as well as the recruitment and promotion of minority employees — within each school and division.

The Diversity and International Affairs Office also works closely with the head of each college and department to ensure that diversity is an integral component of each one’s mission. “We ask [the deans] what their vision statement is and how diversity is integrated into the development and advancement plans of their school,” says Taylor-Archer. “We use our accountability metrics to look at things like the composition of the student body, but we also [consider] what’s happening in terms of education, research, and scholarship.”

UofL places a strong emphasis on research and teaching around issues related to equity and social justice, which is demonstrated by the fact that every student is required to complete two three-credit courses on these subjects — one focused on diversity issues in the U.S. and the other on global diversity. “We consider diversity to be all-inclusive, which is why we want our students looking internally and externally at such issues,” Taylor-Archer says.

Similarly, UofL emphasizes the importance of international service-learning to help broaden their perspectives. The university has offered such programs in Belize, the Philippines, Ghana, Rwanda, and other countries. Led by faculty members, participating students have provided dental services, taught English to school children, and built huts for homeless families.

Students in the UofL Muhammad Ali Scholars program visit the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Ala.

The Muhammad Ali Scholars program at UofL also provides a unique opportunity for students to complete service-learning projects while engaging in collaborative research on topics such as global poverty and racism, as well as similar issues. “Our Muhammad Ali Scholars do intensive work [toward] understanding social justice and peace-making, both in the U.S. and abroad,” Taylor-Archer says.

The program is facilitated by the Muhammad Ali Institute for Peace and Social Justice, one of several on-campus entities dedicated to supporting the work of diversity and inclusion at home and around the globe. This dual focus on addressing both domestic and international issues, Taylor Archer says, allows the university to expose students and faculty to a wide range of perspectives — a critical component of learning.

“We try to have programs that cover all aspects of inclusion [on campus] for our students, faculty, and staff,” she says. “We want our students to pay attention to the rest of the world and be true global citizens.”●

Mariah Bohanon is a senior staff writer for INSIGHT Into Diversity.