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Fall diversity summit focuses on equity training and cluster hiring

Nearly 200 faculty and staff from across the Washington State University system gathered virtually to learn about cluster hiring, a new state law mandating diversity training at universities, and the importance of self-care.

The topics were part of last week’s fall Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice Summit organized by the Division of Student Affairs. In her opening remarks, Elizabeth Chilton, WSU provost and executive vice president and WSU Pullman chancellor-designate, reflected that when she arrived at WSU last summer, the nation was in the grips of the COVID-19 pandemic and protests related to the murder of George Floyd.

“These events brought a new focus to the structural inequalities in contemporary society,” Chilton said. “At WSU, I was impressed with how our communities leaned-in to look internally at what we can do to enact change.”

Developing training and assessment

Last summer, the Washington State legislature enacted a law that requires all colleges and universities in the state to establish diversity, equity, inclusion, and antiracism training for faculty, staff, and students. Senate Bill 5227 also includes a mandate that institutions conduct campus climate assessments a minimum of every five years.

Jaime Nolan, associate vice president for community, equity, and social justice in the Division of Student Affairs, said WSU has already implemented many of the initiatives asked for in the bill, and several others are in the planning stages.

Several projects are being led by Chilton and her team, including the implementation of the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education satisfaction survey, supporting faculty mentoring with an equity lens, providing mindfulness and anti-racism training, and examining the promotion and tenure process.

“We are beginning to acknowledge services that weren’t counted in the past, such as invisible labor, community engaged research, inclusive pedagogy – things that are more likely to fall into the purview of our faculty of color,” Nolan said.

Nolan also touted WSU’s Community and Equity Certificate Program, which is available for faculty and staff systemwide, and the Equity 360 Certificate Program for students, which has already been piloted and will be ready to launch as early as this spring. 

Plans are also in the works to distribute climate surveys to students, faculty, and staff in the coming months. 

Building equity-minded scholarship

WSU’s cluster hire program is a key strategy for improving campus climate. With an overarching focus on racism and social inequities in the Americas, the first goal of the program is to build institutional strength in equity-minded scholarship.

The program’s first cohort includes the hiring of five new faculty in disciplines ranging from Digital Technologies and Culture at WSU Tri-Cities to music at WSU Pullman.

“The proposals we selected from across the system were incredibly robust, creative, and thoughtful,” Guerrero said. “Departments were forward-looking about how they will develop through equity lenses and bring scholars who are focused on equity scholarship and community engaged scholarship.”

The second faculty cohort is expected to arrive next fall and bring with them scholarship around health equity and injustice. 

A call for proposals for a third cohort will go out in spring 2022.

Celebrating our successes

Even though there are many positive developments at WSU, Amy Sharp, director of the Women*s Center, reminded summit participants that some students, faculty, and staff continue to struggle with racism, sexism, homophobia, and class oppression daily.

Sharp stressed the importance of practicing self-care, as well as having access to community and structural care – things like childcare, universal healthcare, and a living wage.

In his closing remarks, WSU President Kirk Schulz applauded Sharp’s message, and discussed the importance of recognizing the university’s successes in equity and inclusion.

This is the WSU system at its absolute best,” Schulz said. “Today’s summit is a reminder of how far we have come as a university community.”

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