Diversity plan initiatives begin

by Amanda Zhou | 9/16/16 12:34am

The College has taken the first steps in implementing its plan for improving diversity and inclusion on campus and among alumni.

In late May, the College released its action plan for inclusive excellence. Yesterday, a website was released that outlines the six main initiatives and multiple subinitiatives of the plan. Of the 47 subinitiatives listed on the website, seven are marked as complete.

On the website, each subinitiative is labeled with a status, description and comment form. Special Assistant to the President Christianne Wohlforth, who manages the website, said she hopes that as the website evolves there will be more transparency on who is working on these programs.

Wohlforth described the website’s release as a soft launch, noting it will be publicized in a few weeks when there is more content.

The action plan attempts to increase diversity beyond just one office on campus or a particular group of people, said Vice Provost for Academic Iniatitives Denise Anthony, who sat on the faculty working group. Wohlforth also emphasized the comprehensive and far-reaching aspect of the action plan.

“Any task in isolation is insufficient to really move the needle on this. It’s everything lined up together which is going to create the sort of critical mass of activities that I think is going to change and shift the culture,” Wohlforth said.

Wohlforth also emphasized that the initiative is “not diversity for diversity’s sake.”

“We see that a necessary precondition for excellence is a sense of belonging in the community or that concept of inclusion,” she said.

The action plan details several tasks to be completed by Sept. 15, including a report with recommendations from the Provost and Advancement Division that looked at ways to increase connections between alumni and students in order to support students of color and the LGBTQIA community.

Martha Johnson Beattie ’76, vice president for alumni relations, said the report, which will be posted on the website, contains more information about diversity initatives within alumni relations. The alumni office initiatives include promoting more affiliated group representatives ­— such as members of the Black Alumni of Dartmouth Assocation, Native American Alumni Association of Dartmouth and Dartmouth Association of Latino Alumni — at admitted student events, facilitating phone calls from affiliated group representatives to prospective and admitted students, and matching prospective student interviews with seniors in the same underrepresented demographic.

A task of the diversity action plan is to improve diversity and inclusivity initiatives during freshman orientation. Associate Dean for Student Life Eric Ramsey, who oversees orientation, said the action plan has made him recalibrate current programs more than create new one. The choice of Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie as a summer reading book was made in part because it “resonate[s] with different experiences,” he said.

New Student Orientation was developed further over the summer to make sure students were aware of opportunities for involvement in diversity iniatitives and how to report a bias incident, he said.

Ahmed Mohammad, director of talent acquisition, who chaired the staff working group, said human resources will conduct exit interviews along with interviews for all faculty and staff. In addition, Mohammad added that diversity and implicit bias training has become more robust and “more mandatory” under the action plan. Training is now required for all parts of hiring including managers and search committees.

Implicit bias training will be requried for all senior staff members, faculty search committess, department chairs, new managers, students and the Board of Trustees. Implicit bias are attitudes or steroetypes that are unconcious and unconciously affect how people understand the world, Anthony said. Implicit bias is an important part of bias overall, which is an issue the working groups wanted to addres.

“Trying to understand [implicit bias] a little more helps us in a community say, “‘Look, no matter how dedicated I am to these issues, I am still affected by implicit bias,” she said. Anthony added that awareness of implicit bias helps mitigate the bias that might result.

The action also increased funding to employee resource networks, which are afinity groups comprised of faculty, staff, families and Upper Valley community members, from 6,000 to 60,000. Evelynn Ellis, vice president of institutional diversity and equality, said the money will go towards providing social events which can help staff destress as well as professional development opportunities.

The executive committee is still forming another committee consisting of non-Dartmouth researchers and professionals to both evaluate Dartmouth’s progress and help set future quotas, Ellis said. Wohlforth said the goal to form a council on diversity was stalled and is still in planning.

Mohammed said, as someone “coming from the inside and also being close to the leadership,” there is a large difference between the action plan’s exeutive committee and executive commitees in the past.

“These folks seem to be a lot more committed to putting their money where their mouth is,” he said.

Ellis expressed similar optimism concerning the action plan.

“I would rather have my heart broken then to not believe we can do it. I really would,” she said.