Unprecedented efforts across the Washington State University system are creating innovative diversity, equity and inclusion programs at a historic rate. While he is excited about the progress, WSU President Kirk Schulz said the challenge is making sure each WSU entity doing this crucial work is sharing their best practices–saving others time, energy, and resources in the process.

Schulz made the remarks during WSU’s recent Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Summit, a semesterly gathering of faculty, staff and students engaged in this work.

Work on equity and inclusion has increased across the university system the past two years and plays an important role in metric 11 of WSU’s Drive to 25, which calls for the university to establish a welcoming and inclusive environment.

“If something works well in one place, we should always ask ourselves if it can work equally well in other places,” Schulz said. “If the curriculum, personnel and training are already developed, we can implement it so much quicker than having to create five or six different programs.”

The Division of Student Affairs began organizing the summits last spring as a way for colleagues across the system to share information about their projects and look for ways they can collaborate.

Jaime Nolan, associate vice president for Community, Equity, and Inclusive Excellence, said the goal is to develop authentic and meaningful partnerships, while understanding that each WSU location in uniquely positioned geographically, demographically and by size.

“This work is more robust than one might imagine,” Nolan said. “The importance of making it visible and seeing where the connections might be, has proven to be core to how we are achieving and sustaining a university system that is equitable, and where everyone can thrive.”

The summit featured four examples of how collaboration is being put into practice to advance key university initiatives.

Exploring cultural identity

A series of three training workshops are being created to address students’ concerns that WSU faculty and staff need more cultural education. Under the purview of the Campus Culture and Climate Working Group, volunteers from the Pullman, Spokane and Vancouver campuses formed the Cultural Competency Collective, a team dedicated to researching best practices across the nation and developing a training curriculum for WSU.

The first workshop, titled Equity 101: Defining and Cultivating Inclusive Excellence at WSU, has been piloted nine times with over 160 participants from across the system, including the chancellors, President’s Cabinet members, deans and chairs. There are three more sessions this semester that all employees can sign-up for by visiting the WSU Human Resource Services website. On the web page, log-in then type Equity 101 in the search box. The pilot for Equity 102: Who are You? Fostering Critical Self‑Awareness to Engage Across Differences will roll out this fall or early spring. The pilot for the final workshop of the series, Equity 103: Moving from Equality Towards Equity, will launch in the spring.

“We aim to promote conversations around WSU’s values and our land-grant mission, build inclusive language, and engage in identity exploration,” said Merrianneeta Nesbitt, assistant director in the Office of Outreach and Education on the Pullman campus. “This equity series is developmental and provides tools for inclusive practice for all areas of work.”

The group, which already includes people from the Spokane, Pullman and Vancouver campuses, wants to expand its capacity by involving representatives from the Tri‑Cities, Everett, and WSU Extension.

Building a community of equity

An example of a successful professional development initiative for faculty and staff, WSU Vancouver created a program called Building a Community of Equity (BaCE). Participants begin by taking an intercultural development inventory which measures individual and group cultural competency. After completing 10 hours of workshops covering theoretical and practical frameworks, self-reflection and group dynamics, skill building, and creating change, a post-assessment allows participants to see their growth as a result of the program. Nearly half of all WSU Vancouver faculty and staff participated during its first year. Those completing the training series receive a certificate.

“We teach the skills so participants can become change agents in this work,” said Obie Ford III, associate vice chancellor of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. “We want members of our campus community and around the system to see themselves as being pivotal in infusing equity throughout the system fabric.”

Other collaborative ventures at WSU Vancouver include the establishment of the Center for Intercultural Learning and Affirmation, a 1,200 square foot space promoting cultural identity growth through workshops, course work, and co-curricular programming. A new bridge program for multicultural high school students called Truth, History, Resilience, Intersectionality, Voice, and Equity (THRIVE) was piloted during the summer.

A new group for WSU Vancouver faculty and staff called Support and Empowerment for Employees of Color (SEEC) gained the interest of summit participants. It provides opportunities for diverse employees to get to know each other better and feel part of a supportive community. Ford III said students were invited to a recent gathering of the group and everyone left with a new sense of empowerment.

“It was a powerful moment as our hidden figures on campus were rising and claiming space, and our students had no idea we have that many faculty and staff that identify as people of color,” Ford III said. “That moment was really special, and we are looking to create more of them.”

Changing the narrative of fitness

On the Pullman campus, the Access Center is working with University Recreation (UREC) to develop this spring’s Disability Awareness Symposium, a week of activities devoted to inclusive fitness and sport.

Because students with disabilities have always shown interest in fitness at WSU, Assistant Director for Fitness Services and Education Jessica Whitt said staff from the Access Center have been helpful in making UREC’s equipment more adaptive for people with all abilities. They have also helped provide training to UREC’s 300 student employees and even participated in instructor fitness training. She said collaborating on the Disability Awareness Symposium seems like a natural partnership.

“This will be a wonderful opportunity to learn about how to be more inclusive in fitness and sports,” said Davi Kallman, an advisor in the Access Center. “We want to do something that changes the narrative around what we mean by fitness. There’s a misconception that fitness is only physical, but we also need to talk about emotional fitness and mental health.”

UREC and the Access Center are partnering with multiple student affairs offices, academic departments, WSU Global Campus, and WSU Athletics. Select workshops will be streamed systemwide, include interpreters, and some will take place on different campuses either during the symposium or afterwards.

Three years in the making

WSU Vancouver isn’t the only campus with new space for diverse students. The Tri-Cities campus opened the doors to its new MOSAIC Center for Student Inclusion last week. Savanna Navarro Kresse, vice president for ASWSUTC, said with over 41 percent of the student body being students of color and 44 percent first-generation, the campus needed a place where students from different backgrounds, including women and LGBTQ, can learn more about their identities and meet others so they can form a support network.

“Having this center open is a really big deal for us,” Navarro Kresse said. “It reflects three years of work by our student government collaborating with student organizations, faculty, staff, and administrators to make it happen.”

Instructor Katie Banks said students have also been playing collaborative roles in the community by being part of important projects such as the myTRI 2030 regional visioning initiative, the Tri-Cities Immigration Coalition, and the Tri-Cities Chamber of Commerce Diversity Summit.

Nolan shared with summit attendees that over 30 groups are working on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives across the university system. Each group is concentrating on an important piece of a large and complex issue. Yet the groups, she pointed out, are interconnected with one another and their work intersects in many places.

The summit concluded by reflecting on a key message shared in a video at the beginning. People tend to hear a single story about others and make judgements about each other based upon that limited information. Attendees were encouraged to recognize that each of us have multiple stories of our own that make us who we are as a person and a valued employee of WSU.