As the University of Nebraska–Lincoln prepares for the State of Diversity forum on Oct. 28, 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 by chatting with Anna Shavers, associate dean for diversity and inclusion, and Cline Williams Professor of Citizenship Law in the university’s College of Law.
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 the College of Law?
Our law school’s recent journey toward greater diversity, equity and inclusion started in 2018 when Dean (Richard) Moberly created the position I hold now, which is associate dean for diversity and inclusion. I believe this to be the first such position created at UNL. It grew out of the faculty Committee on Diversity and Inclusion that was previously created. The committee now includes the associate dean, and representation from students, faculty, and staff across the college. We have recommended a change to the titles of both the associate dean and the committee to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. This important group helps guide and inform our decisions. We are also finalizing our DEI strategic plan, creating more and different opportunities to share our student’s and faculty’s work in this space, and rethinking our admission strategies, hiring practices, and retention efforts.
With respect to diversity, our planning processes have greatly benefited from a self-study we completed. That data allowed us to reflect on where we are and where we could be doing more. This also ties in with the focus that the legal profession has on these issues as well as how they specifically affect the Nebraska legal profession. I recently published an article on this topic. In that article, “Diversity and Inclusion: What’s Racism Got to Do with It?” (published in The September/October 2020 edition of The Nebraska Lawyer), I addressed another major step forward towards our DEI goals, the creation of the Nebraska Legal Diversity Council, which is a partnership between the Law College and other members of the legal community.
Are elements of the plan already being implemented?
Early in the development of our college strategic plan, we decided to focus on inclusion and the student experience. One of our first actions was to talk with students about the interactions they were having on a day-to-day basis. Those discussions led us to emphasize inclusiveness and create an inclusive pedagogy series that brings faculty together for conversations about the classroom. The series features tools and resources available to further inclusive excellence. We also have had some great conversations amongst ourselves and guest speakers, all of which are helping us rethink our curriculum. Of course, inclusiveness requires us to also focus on building an inclusiveness environment in the entire College of Law community as outlined in the college’s strategic plan.
We’ve also made progress through our admissions and student recruitment planning. Since 2008, our numbers have been lower terms of admission of diversity and minority students. But, this year, we are pleased to report that our entering class was the largest it has been for quite some time and that the percentage of minority and diverse students increased.
Our college is also working to improve diversity through our hiring practices. All hiring managers now use a rubric focused on identifying the talents and values of our candidates in addition to their skills and experience. We’re drafting written processes for hiring and onboarding that all searches will follow. We try to post all faculty positions in places that reach minorities and women. And, our faculty are becoming more engaged in the hiring process, providing details on positions to people who they know and who come from diverse backgrounds.
The college’s mission begins “We develop inclusive leaders…”, and we are working to fully live that mission. In the orientation for our first-year students, we introduced them to the concepts embodied in DEI and how they relate to developing inclusive leaders through valuing diversity and building community in the Law College but also in their future positions. This fall we introduced our Inclusive Leadership Program to all students. The program focuses first on leadership of self, including academic and personal well-being habits. It then moves on to leadership of others and encourages leveraging strengths, analyzing situations through a different lens, and applying skills to real-world applications.
Although we have submitted a draft of our DEI strategic plan, we are in the process of finalizing it. The draft has helped launched conversations within the college. And, those conversations are helping us make progress.
How are individuals in the college helping advance inclusive excellence?
One way is through our climate surveys completed by faculty and students, which provide us valuable information about where we have strengths and weaknesses. We also are having sessions with various constituents in the law school community — including regular discussions organized specifically for faculty and staff. Those conversations have helped us build momentum. They are inspiring individuals to think about their interactions, how our college operates, and ways in which we can improve.
Is there a part of the plan that is most exciting to you and/or is having a positive impact on the college?
I mention two things here. I was quite pleased with the results we had in increasing diversity for our new class of students this year. I think changes we’ve made to admissions and recruiting will have long-term benefits for the college. Our admissions office has done great work. I’ve also really enjoyed the conversations we’ve had with faculty regarding inclusive pedagogy. It has been very informative and inspiring learning what others are doing in the classroom and seeing our faculty learn from each other.
I was also inspired by a racism and anti-racism discussion series we launched in the summer of 2020. It was voluntary, but we had tremendous participation. And the meaningful conversations showed that our community sees the value of diversity and inclusion.
We — and in this I mean the entire university — are doing a good job furthering the discussion into how we can be better in terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion. But this isn’t just a moment of time where we can say we did something good and stop. It must be a continual effort if we are going to meet our goals as well as the goals Chancellor (Ronnie) Green outlined in the N2025 report.
Here, in the College of Law, we’re looking forward to fully implementing the DEI strategic plan. It’s an important document that will guide our decisions moving forward — but it won’t be static. It will be ever changing as we continue to make progress as a community.