Update on Diversity Initiatives

Dear Western Community:

Creating and sustaining a campus that is diverse, inclusive, and welcoming to every single member of our Western community is absolutely central to our mission as a university. During the past academic year Western, with important leadership contributions from our students, has engaged with new urgency in conversations about advancing those goals with concrete action and renewed commitment. As a result of those conversations, a number of new initiatives have been launched, and the purpose of this message is to provide a brief update on their progress. 

Before doing so, I want to acknowledge the many diversity-related programs that have long been a part of Western, and the work of those who have supported and led them. The most recent compilation of these programs put together by Western’s Equal Opportunity Office, the 2014 Diversity Handbook, lists separate 356 items.

All of that is consistent with soberly owning up to the fact that much work remains to be done at Western. Building the diverse and inclusive Western community that we all deserve and desire will require continued commitment, collective learning, persistence of thought and action, and purposeful behavior. In the outcomes and initiatives noted below I hope you will see, as I do, signs of progress toward a future that more fully reflects and represents the rich diversity of our campus as well as the local and global communities.

Design Work Starting on the Ethnic Student Center Expansion for Fall 2019 Opening

This fall, design work will begin on the expansion of the Ethnic Student Center and the addition of a Multicultural Center in the Viking Union. The new center will be approximately five times larger than the existing Ethnic Student Center space, and will be a visible part of the Viking Union façade. In addition to providing a more spacious home to Western’s ethnic student clubs, the expanded center will serve as an administrative hub for multicultural education, services, and programming (for more information see the request to the State Legislature below). The Associated Students have approved an Executive Committee to work with the University’s planning team on the Ethnic Student Center portion of the project. The goal is to have the new center open by spring of 2019 or earlier.

Western students not only provided extraordinary leadership in achieving this outcome, they committed to making it financially feasible by passing a referendum in the spring to assess themselves a maximum $30-per-quarter fee to contribute toward the $15-18 million construction costs. Western’s Board of Trustees voted in June to contribute additional University funds, demonstrating their commitment to this important step toward a more inclusive campus.  Western is also seeking additional funding for the expansion in the state capital budget this fall.

Request for state funding: Investing in Student Success and Achievement and Enhancing Equity, Inclusion and Diversity

Western is requesting new funding in 2017-2019 state budget to increase student success and achievement and enhance equity, inclusion and diversity. The nearly $5.6M requested for the two packages seeks funding for increased support in mentoring, advising and counseling; multicultural services aimed at creating a more welcoming and inclusive climate; funding to support diverse educational experiences, including curriculum, research and faculty development; and support for developing Western’s partnerships with external communities toward the success of under-represented, marginalized and diverse students. 

More information about these investment packages can be found here

Native American Outreach

Last spring the leaders of Western’s Native American Student Union (NASU) identified several critical areas in which Western could improve its climate for current and prospective Native American students, better understand the ways in which Native Americans, as members of sovereign nations, are distinct from other underrepresented groups at Western, and develop more meaningful, sustainable relationships with tribes across the state, especially in Whatcom and Skagit Counties. As a result of these conversations a number of initiatives are underway, including:

  • In consultation with members of NASU and Native American faculty and staff, a draft position description for a Tribal Relations Liaison is being developed, with plans of launching a search for the position this fall.
  • This summer Western began providing opportunities for senior leaders from the administration, faculty, staff, and students to take Government-to-Government Training from the Governor’s Office of Indian Affairs. This is a one-day training covering tribal historical perspective, legal issues, tribal sovereignty and government that will improve awareness and understanding for Western employees in developing relationships with Washington’s 29 tribes. Forty six Western employees have completed the training to date.
  • A committee of Western students, faculty and staff, and local tribal representatives will be identified this fall to begin a conceptual discussion about a Native American Long House.
  • Western’s Student Outreach Services, which provides academic advising to first-generation, multicultural and non-traditional students, will include “understanding the experiences and needs of Native American students” among the qualifications sought in candidates for an open academic advisor position.

 

Taskforce on Preventing and Responding to Anti-Semitism

A Taskforce on Preventing and Responding to Anti-Semitism was convened last spring to recommend ways to educate the campus community about the negative impacts of anti-Semitic actions targeting Jewish members of our community. The charge of the Taskforce is to review the impact of antisemitism in historical and contemporary contexts, review best practices to prevent and respond to expressed concerns of antisemitism, and, after consultation with the President’s Task Force on Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity, faculty and student governance leaders, and members of the university community, recommend ways to help educate the campus community in better understanding antisemitism and its negative impacts, including how to prevent and respond to it. 

Bias Education and Response Team Begins Implementation

A Bias Education and Response Team (BERT) workgroup was formed last year to develop protocols and procedures to improve emergency response to incidents of bias. Over the spring and summer, the workgroup developed a set of recommendations on emergency response along with campus engagement and education. Two key elements of these recommendations will move ahead this year: members of the BERT workgroup will be trained in general emergency protocols to serve as BERT leaders for the University’s emergency response team, and proactive bias education and prevention training will be made available through the Campus Equity and Inclusion Forum.

Campus Equity and Inclusion Forum Builds on Successes of First Year & Expands Offerings

The Campus Equity and Inclusion Training Series was proposed by the President’s Taskforce on Equity, Inclusion and Diversity in the spring of 2015 as a university-wide initiative for faculty and staff to better understand and thoughtfully engage with the experiences and identities of all our community members. During its first year of implementation in 2015-16 more than 300 Western employees registered to participate in workshops created and led by Western faculty and staff in four broad areas: Cultural Awareness of Self; Experiences of Others; Critical Conversations in the Workplace; and A Call to Action. Sixteen participants completed at least one workshop in each of the four areas. Special thanks to the faculty and staff facilitators of the workshops, and the President’s Equity, Inclusion and Diversity Taskforce for bringing the idea forward.

This year the Equity and Inclusion Forum returns with new and expanded offerings, including multiple group discussions on this year’s Western Reads selection, Between the World and Me. Workshop descriptions and registration are available here.

Guidelines for Gender Neutral Facilities Begin Implementation

Recognizing that Western’s commitment to including people of all gender identities requires the provision of safe, accessible and reasonably convenient restroom and locker room facilities, an Ad Hoc Gender Neutral Facilities Advisory Committee was convened in January 2016 to develop and recommend guidelines. Solicitation of community input included online surveys to students, faculty and staff, information-gathering sessions, and meetings with the Faculty Senate Executive Committee, the Associated Students Board of Directors, and the LGBT Advocacy Council chair. Based on this work, the Committee developed recommended guidelines, which were finalized and approved in August 2016. The guidelines address new construction as well as renovation and signage of existing facilities. Initial implementation of these guidelines include creating gender neutral restrooms from existing single stall restrooms and ensuring campus building directories list gender neutral facilities or direct individuals to the next nearest building with such facilities. A map of Western’s gender neutral restrooms is available here.

Work Group on Preventing and Responding to Sexual Violence

Western is committed to preventing and responding to issues of sex discrimination and sexual violence, and supporting a culture in which sexually demeaning behavior is widely understood as unacceptable.  Last year a Work Group was formed from administrators of areas that most directly work to prevent and respond to sexual violence. The Work Group serves to coordinate efforts in sexual violence prevention and response that span various functions across campus. It also works to ensure compliance with federal and state laws and regulations, including Title IX which falls under the Office for Civil Rights and the Violence Against Women’s Act (VAWA). During this past year, the Work Group recommended mandatory on-line sexual violence prevention training for all new students and new employees; assisted in developing and administering of Western’s first surveys for students and employees on the sexual violence climate on campus; and engaged in several professional development trainings on trauma informed approaches to issues of sexual violence. The Work Group is turning its attention this year to developing a broad, on-going educational awareness campaign on sexual violence prevention and response.  A search is also underway for a full time, dedicated Title IX coordinator.

Western Reads: Between the World and Me

The campus conversation around equity, inclusion and diversity will be deeply enriched this year by our Western Reads selection, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Formal opportunities to foster and promote that conversation will be available in a robust slate of related events, including a Fall Quarter Film Series, multiple book discussion groups through the Campus Equity and Inclusion Forum, and invited speakers. Complete details on the book, upcoming events, and information about facilitating courageous conversations, are available on the Western Reads website.

Conclusion

Again, this is far from an exhaustive inventory of the many diversity-related programs, projects, initiatives and courses that are underway at Western. Nor do these brief summaries begin to do justice to the detail and nuance of these initiatives, or the enormous amount of work, communication, and collaboration involved in bringing them to this point. My intention has been simply to update the campus community on these particular ongoing efforts.

I would like to thank all of the students, faculty and staff who have been involved in working on these initiatives and the tremendous commitment of time and energy they have made on behalf of all of us in the Western community. The leadership, outreach, expertise, and partnership of the President’s Taskforce on Equity, Inclusion and Diversity has touched nearly all of these new initiatives. The Task Force’s draft equity plan will be shared with campus later this term. The Social Justice and Equity Committee of the Faculty Senate has also been instrumental in facilitating inclusive and far-reaching dialogue that will contribute to sustainable change on campus.

Western is committed to safety, civil and social justice, inclusivity, and race and gender equality. I am deeply appreciative of the concerns that students, faculty and staff from diverse backgrounds and marginalized identities have shared with me. I look forward to learning more from our community and working together to ensure that Western does a better job of addressing those concerns. 

Even as we envision the future through a strategic planning process this year, we will continue our work to advance inclusive excellence, close the achievement gap for students from diverse and under-represented socio-economic backgrounds, and enhance efforts to institutionalize culturally-responsive practices and personalized services. To this end, we will initiate a deeper understanding of how we advance success for all students and how we more purposefully utilize and align university resources to enhance student learning. We have a number of impressive initiatives across campus focused on increasing diversity and excellence. We need to ensure that those activities are coordinated to have the desired impact in advancing the university in meaningful ways. Similarly, we have a number of groups that are engaged in meaningful conversations around diversity and excellence. While encouraging creative ideas from individuals and groups, we need to align their work for maximal impact.

I look forward to the ways in which our campus creativity, compassion, and commitment to excellence through diversity will come forward. Thank you for your commitment to building that future together at Western.