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 Graduate Studies’ diversity, equity and inclusion leadership team. Members of the group include Deb Hope, dean of Graduate Studies; Ruth Oliver Andrew, assistant director of graduate enrollment for diversity and inclusion; Caroline Knuth, operations manager; Alisha Hanshaw, assistant dean of graduate enrollment; and L.J. McElravy, associate dean.
This question and answer series exploring campus diversity, equity and inclusion planning will continue beyond the State of Diversity forum and into November. If your college, department or unit has a plan to feature, contact Troy Fedderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-472-8515.
What is the state of diversity, equity and inclusion planning in Graduate Studies?
As many on campus know, one of my primary passions is DEI work. To better understand where we are with DEI as a group, I have asked that we take a step back, look at what we’ve accomplished, how we can build upon successes and figure out where we want to be in the next two to five years.
We have started that process across Graduate Studies. We are having ongoing, meaningful conversations that will lead to a more traditional strategic plan. Through the entire process, we will be focused on our mission, assessing where we are today and who we serve, while developing programming.
I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that, before I started as dean in September, there has been a lot of impactful DEI planning and programming in Graduate Studies. This team and previous leadership have done a great job in terms of DEI programming that prepares our students for careers in diverse fields and helps our faculty create coursework that furthers DEI education.
Our goal is to maintain that momentum, while also aligning Graduate Studies with university priorities and the N2025 strategic plan.
Are elements of your DEI planning already being implemented?
Yes. An initial step for us has been for this leadership group to come together regularly and talk about diversity, equity and inclusion issues.
Professional development to teach and support our graduate students remains a focus for us. And, a part of that is the development of an inclusive leadership program. That is something we are working on with the Graduate Student Assembly and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and it is supported by an Inclusive Excellence Development Grant from University of Nebraska’s Office of the President.
Another major initiative is a program called CIRTL (Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning). We are one of about 40 universities across the United States and Canada who offer this unique program that promotes STEM education for diverse audiences.
We are also taking a critical look at policies and procedures related to graduate education, approaching them with an inclusive eye to reassess where we are today and if changes are needed for the future.
And, we continue to offer regular programming to graduate students, post-docs, faculty and staff that addresses DEI issues in the classroom and beyond.
How are individuals within Graduate Studies helping advance inclusive excellence?
We are completing Intercultural Development Inventories, an assessment that helps individuals evaluate their intercultural competence. It’s a way for the individual to see how effective and appropriate their interactions are with others who have cultural similarities or differences. We are talking with each other about those results and spending some time getting to know a little bit about cultural backgrounds.
We also host a summer research program, which brings in a diverse group of students from across the United States to teach them about graduate education possibilities. It supports a lot of underrepresented student populations with a goal of getting them to realize that a graduate degree is obtainable.
This is an area that will become better defined as we move forward with our strategic planning process.
Is there a part of the plan that is most exciting to you and/or having a positive impact on the college?
Our team is excited about expanding opportunities for outreach and engagement across the university — particularly in working with faculty to develop new academic programs and consulting on ways to make these new programs relevant to DEI and the diverse career paths of our students.
We look forward to being a part of the university community’s ongoing conversation and supporting broader DEI initiatives from the perspective of our graduate students. Connecting our efforts and talking about how we can best match our resources to college, department and unit plans will also be key.
Supporting and learning more about diversity, equity and inclusion issues is something our graduate students — in particular, our graduate teaching assistants — are passionate about. Meeting those desires will be critical as we move forward. We are excited about the opportunity to offer more workshops, training and engaging programs that help create greater understanding of what it means to be an inclusive community.