DIGS launch reflects Nebraska Business' commitment to students, diversity

· 6 min read

DIGS launch reflects Nebraska Business’ commitment to students, diversity

Nebraska Today Q&A
The College of Business celebrated the opening of its Diversity and Inclusion Gathering Space on Oct. 5. The space serves as a hub for conversation, inclusive programming and gatherings to help all students feel they belong in the Nebraska Business community.

As the University of Nebraska–Lincoln moves forward with diversity planning, Nebraska Today is sitting down with college leaders to explore how inclusive excellence is being folded into day-to-day campus activities.

Since 2019, the university’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion has worked directly with institutional leaders in multiple ways, including through the Council of Inclusive Excellence and Diversity. Intended to connect colleges, primary campus units and ODI, the council is led by Nkenge Friday, assistant vice chancellor for strategic initiatives, with representation from across the institution.

The work of the council has been pivotal in guiding diversity, equity and inclusion plans university-wide. And, momentum realized through the council is being featured in this Q&A series.

Today, we’re continuing the series with the College of Business, talking with Kathy Farrell, dean, and Rik Barrera, associate dean of operations, inclusion, and chief of staff.

This question and answer series exploring campus diversity, equity and inclusion planning started prior to the State of Diversity address on Oct. 28 and continues into November. If your college, department or unit would like to be featured, contact Troy Fedderson at tfedderson2@unl.edu or 402-472-8515.

What is the state of diversity, equity and inclusion planning in the College of Business?

Farrell — I would sum up our status as in progress. We’ve undertaken a concerted effort in a lot of areas related to diversity and inclusion. We’ve made great progress, but we’re not there yet.

Barrera — We do expect that, like any other good strategic plan, our team will be constantly updating and monitoring diversity, equity and inclusion plans for the college. It’s going to be a living document.

Farrell — We are incorporating some specific goals around diversity and inclusion into our overall college strategic plan. And, we did reevaluate our strategic plan in the spring partly in response to a request from our accrediting body. One of the things we did through that process was make sure our plan is in alignment with the university’s N2025 plan — which includes important diversity, equity and inclusion goals.

Are elements of the institute’s plan already being implemented?

Barrera — Yes, we have quite a few things in process. We formed a dean’s advisory group around diversity, equity and inclusion nearly a year ago. It includes both internal and external representation with students, faculty, staff, alumni and business partners. I lead that group and we’ve helped form the DEI goals for the college. Their work is ongoing.

We also instituted, through our Executive Education offerings, our DEI Ambassadors initiative. It is a two-day certificate training program focused on diversity, equity and inclusion training. Two cohorts from our college — 28 faculty and staff — have gone through it. Now, our next step is to open it up to external units on campus, corporations and our business partners.

And, we also launched a diversity and inclusion book club for faculty and staff. It’s been a great way for our college to connect and discuss important DEI concepts.

Farrell — We’ve also set two very high-level, broad goals — first, to enhance diversity and equity, and second, to build and sustain an inclusive community. To meet those goals, we have started to gather benchmarking data that will help us know where we are and where we need to be to have success.

We are looking at all of our systems and practices in regards to recruitment of students, faculty and staff; how we promote the college; focusing on inclusive leadership and cultural awareness. Ultimately, we want to ensure that the College of Business fosters inclusion and a sense of belonging for all.

How are individuals in the college helping advance inclusive excellence?

Farrell — When we first started with our focus on DEI and created the advisory board, we were excited by the level of interest from our faculty and staff. We had to limit the size of the board for it to be effective, but the interest led us to create the DEI Ambassadors program. It’s been a great opportunity for those interested to participate and have ownership in helping grow our diversity efforts.

Each participant in the ambassadors program is challenged on how they are going to use the knowledge to improve the unit they work in. And, the members of the cohorts that have completed the program continue to meet, discussing DEI issues and ideas to move us forward. These dedicated individuals are making positive diversity impacts on our college every day.

Barrera — We also are focused on staff development. To further that, we don’t do a one-time annual evaluation. Rather, we have regular reviews — at least four each year. We call them development conversations. It’s moved us away from evaluating and toward coaching our staff. And, some of the questions we ask are focused on diversity.

Those conversations around diversity can be difficult because many of us don’t know how to approach it or it makes us uncomfortable. To help with that, we work with our supervisors, coaching them on how to effectively have those conversations.

Our faculty and staff help further the university’s diversity work, serving on various DEI committees and groups. We offer our students, faculty and staff a number of events focused on diversity, equity and inclusion topics and current events. And, we are focused on creating a sense of community for all of our students, including helping freshmen with the difficult transition to college.

Is there a part of the plan that is most exciting to you and/or having a positive impact on the college?

Farrell — I’m excited to see our original plans for this building to be a place where students would want to come and stay the entire day become a reality. Our diversity, equity and inclusion planning and programming are helping strengthen that vision for our building and bringing our community closer together.

One recent success has been the launch of DIGS — our Diversity and Inclusion Gathering Space. It’s a dedicated physical space that serves as a hub for inclusive programming and gatherings. It’s our own little multicultural center and our students are making it a vibrant, active space.

I’m also excited about our university’s broader diversity, equity and inclusion initiative. It has been incredible seeing our various college programs come together and share ideas. Leadership from the Office of Diversity and Inclusion has been incredibly valuable. We are building momentum that is truly transforming our university into a place where every person and every interaction matters.

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