What does a community that embraces the virtue of radical hospitality look like? This is the question that the task force devoted to Embracing Our Differences as One Human Family seeks to answer.
The goal of answering this question was always a top priority for the strategic plan. Our climate studies and President’s Planning Survey demonstrated that goodwill alone would not shift our culture. We needed to examine our practices, our organizational structures and our educational opportunities for faculty and staff, from the top down, in order to make significant change. The result has been the implementation of some significant changes throughout many different parts of the university.
The most visible change was the reorganization of the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion (OID) under the leadership of a full-time associate vice president. This area is housed within the Office for Mission because an inclusive culture flows from our Catholic identity.
OID serves the whole community – faculty, staff and students – as we pursue our diversity and inclusion initiatives. This year, the president significantly increased the operating budget of this office to support more robust programming. At their next event, which will place Nov. 11, Tayo Rockson will lead an interactive session on “Leadership in the Global World.”
Changes begin at the top. With financial support from the president’s office, Dr. Artika Tyner, associate vice president for diversity and inclusion, has arranged for the president’s cabinet to take the Intercultural Development Inventory to assess senior leadership’s capacity to effect change in our institution. The process includes a 30-minute confidential feedback coaching session with a professional from the external organization administering the assessment.
The OID cannot shift our culture alone; many other offices on campus are working toward a more inclusive climate. Student Diversity and Inclusion Services has enhanced their programs across the board. One new program that occurs every Friday afternoon is the Purple Bench, which provides space for the community to have discussions around uncomfortable topics that were solicited from incoming first-year students during orientation.
Student Affairs also has formed the Diversity Activities Board (DAB), a group of student leaders responsible for offering educational programs focused on diversity and inclusion. Students and staff alike encourage our whole community to participate in these events; check here for November’s programs for National Native American Heritage Month.
Faculty Development has enhanced opportunities for faculty to create a more inclusive classroom. St. Thomas now has an institutional membership to the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity, which provides many online supports for both teaching and research. This year Faculty Development also launched their Inclusive Classroom Institute – a yearlong program of faculty training aimed at helping faculty gain awareness and training to promote equitable opportunities for students. So far 40 faculty members attended workshops in September and October.
More invisible have been the changes in other parts of the university. For example, Human Resources has made adjustments in the hiring process to include better training for hiring committee members. In faculty searches, one member on each hiring committee will serve as a trained advocate for fairness in the search.
The Leadership Academy also has increased its educational opportunities related to diversity, including accessibility of classroom materials for students who are differently abled. Campus Ministry is in the process of hiring a protestant minister, a Jewish rabbi and possibly an Imam to work part time with the Office of Mission and to support the spiritual well-being of all of our students.
Will these changes alone solve all of our tensions around inclusion and difference? Of course not. But hopefully we will make significant strides in shifting our culture toward living out our commitment to radical hospitality.