As the University of Nebraska–Lincoln moves forward with diversity planning and a new commitment to action, Nebraska Today is sitting down with university 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 Undergraduate Education and Student Success units, talking with Amy Goodburn, senior associate vice chancellor and dean for undergraduate education, and professor of English.
What is the state of diversity, equity and inclusion planning in your college/department/unit?
Undergraduate Education and Student Success is comprised of 10 units that provide university-wide academic support and engagement opportunities, primarily for undergraduates, as well as professional development programs for staff and faculty. Some of these units include the Center for Academic Success and Transition, Honors Program, Explore Center, Learning Communities, Career Services, Undergraduate Research, Military and Veteran Success Center, and the Center for Transformative Teaching. Collectively our more than 70 staff members across our units work with thousands of students and hundreds of faculty and staff members each year.
We began developing our strategic plan for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the fall of 2019. While each UESS unit has historically offered different programs and resources in the DEI space, we had never discussed how we might work across our units to identify priority areas and develop collective goals and assessment plans. We spent six months in engaged conversations and in May of 2020, we finalized our plan, which focuses on three priority areas: Scholar Retention and Engagement, Staff Recruitment and Development, and Faculty Engagement and Collaboration.
We developed a cross-unit implementation committee to administer the plan. These eight committee members’ duties include making recommendations on unit level goals and strategies, developing a working document that tracks the implementation, and preparing annual reports on progress for UESS members.
In addition, our unit leaders and the implementation committee began organizing a common professional development activity each semester for all UESS members that examines a topic around diversity, equity, and inclusion. We had never brought all UESS members together previously. The first workshop focused on hiring practices and facilitated by Gwendolyn Combs. The second focused on reading and discussing chapters from the book “College Belonging: How First-Year and First-Generation Students Navigate Campus Life.” These workshops have not only helped us to engage more fully on topics about diversity, equity, and inclusion, but they have also helped to build stronger community for staff across UESS units.
Are elements of your DEI planning already being implemented?
Yes. We have already begun to implement our DEI plan in each of the three priority areas. It’s been exciting to see how focused attention to diversity, equity and inclusion has been integrated into so many of our existing programs as well as how ideas for new programs and unit practices have emerged.
Many UESS units are focusing on student engagement through a DEI lens. Career Services, for instance, is prioritizing ways to support the career development needs of historically underserved populations. During academic year 2020-21, Career Services offered the First-Generation Career Readiness Series for first generation students, partnered with the LGBTQA+ Center and Union Pacific to host Pride in the Workplace, and collaborated with the Military and Veteran Success Center to offer virtual networking opportunities for military and veteran students.
Our Honors Program developed the Cooper Conversation Series with community partners and students designed to sponsor meaningful conversations tied to the annual theme of the E.N. Thompson Forum. In fall 2021 conversations have included discussions about how to be an antiracist, the documentary “Black Men in White Coats,” and racial bias in artificial intelligence.
On the faculty development side, the Center for Transformative Teaching offered numerous programs in the past year to help faculty develop an equity lens, including helping faculty design equitable online learning activities, building inclusive classrooms, and utilizing universal design in pedagogy. The center also provided equity grants to support faculty in developing inclusive teaching and learning. For instance, a College of Journalism and Mass Communications course was funded with a focus on editing and writing for inclusion and equity.
In the area of staff recruitment and hiring, UESS units have reviewed their job descriptions and hiring processes with an eye toward more intentionally soliciting broader and more diverse candidate pools. We have also revised our annual review processes to include questions and reflections on inclusive excellence. Last year many UESS units used the question: “The N 2025 Strategic Plan identifies a key aim to ‘Create a climate at Nebraska that emphasizes, prioritizes, and expands inclusive excellence and diversity.’ How did you enact this aim within your unit during 2020?” This is an example of how we are working to identify opportunities to embed an equity lens into our daily practices.
How are individuals within the college/department/unit helping advance inclusive excellence?
Numerous individuals are advising inclusive excellence within their own units and across our UESS units collectively. Amy Ort and Joe Brownell are the co-chairs of our DEI committee and have worked hard to develop appropriate professional development opportunities in collaboration with the other committee members. Courtney Santos has developed a DEI plan to increase and support low-income, first-generation, and historically underserved ethnic minority scholars who apply for competitive national and international fellowships. And CJ Venable, the training and professional development specialist for academic advising, has developed a range of programs for advisers to better understand scholars’ needs and to reflect on their own biases and opportunities for growth about diversity, equity, and inclusion. These are just a few of the many individuals across UESS units who are committed to working toward the university’s N2025 goals for creating a climate at Nebraska that prioritizes inclusive excellence and diversity.
Is there a part of the plan that is most exciting to you and/or having a positive impact on Undergraduate Education and Student Success?
What’s most exciting to me is the range of opportunities and activities around diversity, equity, and inclusion already represented across the UESS units and our members’ passionate commitment to ongoing learning about how we can better support our scholars’ journeys. We constantly discuss how our units support the N2025 goals for degree completion and equity. Mobilizing our work to ensure that every scholar succeeds, regardless of demographic or social identity, keeps us collectively motivated, engaged and energized.