Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Diversity plan takes step in the right direction

Dr. Monica Smith, the vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion, sent out an email to the entire population at Augustana College, announcing the then-newly created Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Strategic Plan on Aug. 6, 2019.

According to an email, the plan was the result of a partnership between a core group of faculty, staff members and students. It was officially implemented on Sept. 3, 2019 with the full support of President Bahls and the cabinet.

“The strategic plan is an important component to moving forward our commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion,” Smith said in an email to The Observer.

The four-page long document outlines the goals that Augustana ought to achieve in order to become a diverse community with fair practices, an inclusive learning environment and similar sense of belonging for every member.

Jordan Cray, president of the Black Student Union, thinks the plan is moving in the right direction.

“I feel that it is a good plan with specific ways to tackle issues and create opportunities for underrepresented students on campus,” Cray said in an email. “All the goals, one through five, can be seen to target specific aspects of campus. However, when reading it and deciding where to start, you can see that they are interconnected.”

The plan’s first goal is to help the school foster a college campus that cherishes diversity and makes everyone feel included. Through learning modules, and open conversations between people of different backgrounds on campus, the plan’s designers expect to see more mindfulness of inclusion and diversity at Augustana.

Stanley Mensah, president of the African Student Association, says the plan is a great initiative.

“Honestly, whether people see it or not, this school is biased in so many ways – especially towards international students or people of color. Until this school seeks to create equality or provide equal opportunity for all students, international students and students of color will always feel disadvantaged or left out,” Mensah said in an email.

Mensah mentions that every cultural group came together to kickstart the push for more inclusion.

The plan includes the Bias Response Team (BRT), which consists of Smith, Dr. Wes Brooks, Dr. Jessica Schultz and Laura Ford.

The Bias Response Team (BRT) sent an email on Sept. 26 detailing their prcoess.  The team will review every received bias incident and resolve them in the appropriate manner: from student conduct processes to employee conduct processes, criminal prosecution and educational intervention.

Community members can anonymously submit incidents in an online form.

The second goal mentioned is to increase admission and retention of students, faculty and staff members from marginalized groups. The school aims to lessen the financial burden of both its potential and current students from underrepresented communities.

“It is progress; we just want this [plan] to be seen with action,” Fatima Dominguez, president of Latinx Unidos, said. Dominguez really connects with the notion of hiring more employees from marginalized groups since Latinx Unidos doesn’t currently have an advisor. According to Dominguez, their last advisor, Tony Pomales, professor of anthropology, is no longer teaching at Augustana.

Dominguez says PACE, short for Preparation, Awareness, Community and Engagement, has more members this year with 70 members. Yet, Dominguez points out that many cultural groups including Latinx Unidos is dealing with less funds this year after budget cuts.

“Our group grew, which is also an issue, because we are struggling to get money to keep these people who want to be in LU to stay in LU,” Dominguez said.

Augustana College is also expected to make other resources accessible to these students so that their post-graduate outcomes are reflections of their true abilities.

The school will be restructuring its scouting and hiring process in hopes of increasing the number of faculty and staff from underrepresented groups. Once hired, these faculty and staff will also be offered additional support so they can thrive in their respective fields.

Jacqueline Massat, junior, said, “Hiring Dr. Monica Smith was a step in the right direction but she’s just one of so many [people]. The rest of the administrative positions are white people… Majority of professors are white, and [the] majority of staff is white.

“I feel like [the plan’s goal] would help a lot with our on-campus culture. Having a more diverse staff would be good [because] when people come to campus and see what it’s about, they [will] get a sense of diversity based on the people who work here.”

Massat is an employee of the Office of Student Inclusion and Diversity.

The plan’s third goal mentions building a curriculum that reflects global diversity, inclusion and social justice.

Incorporating these topics into academic programs, the DEI Strategic Plan hopes to create a community that encourages social justice, cultural competencies and understanding of diversity.

Students at Augustana are already experiencing this in the form of D&G suffix courses, but the plan is looking to further develop these classes and enhance them with knowledge and skills-based outcomes.

Carlos Ramirez, sophomore, said, “I feel like we only talk about it during class, and it was just about the online thing we had to do. I feel like a lot of people push it to the side because it was something that was getting in the way of their schoolwork.”

Ramirez is an employee of the Office of Student Inclusion and Diversity.

Massat said, “We should find ways to make our curriculum and what professors teach us more diverse and intertwine diversity in that way. I feel like we can have a lot more classes about different cultures and different countries.”

The plan strives to make sure that Augustana College has sufficient resources to support the plan itself as well as the potential increased number of students, faculty and staff from underrepresented groups.

The final goal of the DEI Strategic Plan encourages engagement between the Augustana population and the Quad Cities community.

Augustana College is expected to exercise leadership and promote diversity and inclusion within the area.

Augustana College has recently received the 2019 Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Award from INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine.

According to the Augustana website, the college mentions three examples of efforts done to better diversity on campus. These include employee recruitment, Student Leaders for Inclusion, Diversity and Equity (SLIDE) and PACE.

Twenty-three percent of Augustana’s student population is currently from a historically underrepresented background, according to the Augustana website. Augustana’s international student enrollment is 12 percent, which is a 10 percent increase over the last five years the Augustana website stated.

“I was ecstatic because it is a testament to our appetite to do the work and confirmation of our commitments and competence in diversity, equity and inclusion,” Smith said  in the Augustana website news post.

Dominguez is happy that Augie received an award but she has mixed feelings about it.

“It is a good thing that we got an award for that, but I don’t see a big difference–change in Augie where we deserved it,” Dominguez said.

Michael Rogers, the director of the Office of Student Inclusion and Diversity (OSID) and an alumni, acknowledges the changes that have occurred since his time as a student here.

“The campus is more racially and ethnically diverse, and we offer much more support, programming and resources,” Rogers said in an email. “There is always room for improvement and growth.”

Emily Sibounheuang, president of the Asian Student Organization, said in an email, “I think Augie could be more inclusive with more awareness made to the different cultural groups on campus. Also the awareness that the culture groups are for everyone to come and learn.”

Rogers, Cray and Dominguez all believe that in order for Augie to be inclusive, people from other cultural backgrounds should attend each group’s meetings and their hosted events.

“When you have people from various cultures, backgrounds, and beliefs that’s great, but being aware and informed about the various people and including them in events and everyday activities on campus is even better,” Cray said in an email.

Smith will be talking about the plan Friday in Olin 209 at 11:15 am.

Additional reporting by Brady Johnson.

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Diversity plan takes step in the right direction