“The timing was critical,” said LaTanya N. Buck, PhD, director of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion at Washington University in St. Louis, reflecting on the launch of the center last fall.
“Given the events in Ferguson and around the country, it was — and is — extremely important for our students and the broader university community to have a place to connect around the issues of diversity and inclusion both on and off campus,” she said.
“Over the past year, we’ve built some amazing relationships with many campus and St. Louis community partners, and we’ve taken the time to develop a comprehensive strategic plan for our future.”
Buck outlined the center’s five strategic priorities:
- To engage students in intentional, reflective and applied learning experiences related to identity, intercultural and cross-cultural communication, and diversity and social justice concepts.
- To cultivate and foster a supportive campus climate for students of all backgrounds, cultures and identities.
- To advocate for traditionally underrepresented, underserved, and/or marginalized student populations and institutional change in the areas of diversity, inclusion and equity.
- To create collaborative partnerships with constituents within the university and broader communities for student engagement and the promotion of dialogue and social change.
- To develop sustainable infrastructure and operational and governance models to further the vision, mission and goals of the center.
Listen. Talk. Learn.
The center currently is working with the St. Louis Diversity Awareness Partnership (DAP) to host a community workshop focusing on race on Aug. 5 at Washington University.
The workshop, part of DAP’s “Listen. Talk. Learn: Week of Dialogue,” will provide tips and strategies for addressing issues of race, racism and unconscious bias.
“This session will be helpful in equipping our community with some tools and skills to continue our support and engagement of current and incoming students,” Buck said.
The Aug. 5 event at Washington University is full. Visit the DAP website for information about other sessions taking place in the community.
The year ahead
The center is making some significant progress on these priorities.
Purvi Patel recently joined the center as assistant director after serving as assistant director of student life at Loyola University Maryland.
Patel is responsible for coordinating the university’s Bias Report and Support System and overseeing all of the center’s programmatic initiatives.
She will work alongside Buck on assessing the center’s educational efforts.
“Students are going to enjoy working with Purvi,” Buck said. “She has a great energy and brings strong experience in diversity and inclusion programming, curriculum development, community crisis response and faculty-staff partnerships to the position.”
This year, Buck and Patel plan to pilot a student intergroup dialogue program to promote deep and critical discourse around social identity and social issues. The initial pilot will begin with an exploration of racial identity and race-related issues. The center is reviewing peer-to-peer dialogue offerings on other campuses and in other communities to serve as potential models for a sustained program at Washington University.
Also in the works is the creation of student affinity spaces, which bring students who share a common identity, background or interests together to offer support and community for one another.
“We’re very excited about the increase in student racial, ethnic and economic diversity at the university, and we want to make sure we are developing support spaces for these students while staying connected to the broader university diversity and inclusion efforts,” Buck said.
To that end, Buck has represented the center on the university’s Diversity and Inclusion Steering Committee, which will be offering recommendations to university leadership later this summer.
“The committee has been very thoughtful and intentional in looking at different areas of the university, including hiring and retaining a diverse faculty and staff, and engaging students around the issues of diversity, identity and inclusion,” Buck said.
Going forward, the center also will continue expanding its connections with academic and community partners.
For more information about the center, visit http://diversity.wustl.edu/center-diversity-inclusion/.