Futuring Paper – Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Co-Conveners: Vivien Ng and Michelle Harris

Co-conveners Michelle Harris and Vivien Ng invited 30+ faculty, students, and staff to a 2-hr. brainstorming session modeled after the Futuring Workshop organized by the Provost’s Office on September 9. In spite of short notice, 13 people participated in a September 23 session held in Assembly Hall, Campus Center.

Bruce Szelest gave a brief overview of the strategic planning process.

Vivien Ng and Michelle Harris facilitated the brainstorming session. What follows is a summary of the proceeding.

Diversity, equity and inclusion are difficult topics to discuss; this was obvious from the mood and disposition of the participants.  As we (Ng and Harris) debriefed after our group met, we described the mood as “sour.”  At several intervals throughout the two-hour meeting, several participants expressed their anger and frustration at being asked to participate in yet another session on “diversity.” They asked what would come of the process and whether there would be any follow-through. Unlike the mood of the introductory Futuring Workshop (September 9) where participants stayed on task in terms of answering the question that was being posed at the time, and where they could not only articulate challenges but also imagine opportunities for growth and change, our participants seemed to lack the imagination to see opportunities in the challenges.  It was obvious that the topic under discussion was not one that could be approached as a ‘thought exercise’; participants’ emotions were very much present and often voiced.

In order to neither ‘tidy up’ nor silence the sentiments of the participants, we decided to, as often as possible, present their own words.  Some responses were off topic, previously expressed, or not clearly articulated; to the extent that this occurred, we did some minor editing or eliminated the comments that were out of context or redundant.  What follows is a compilation of our groups’ thoughts and feelings about diversity, equity and inclusion in the UAlbany community. 

  1. What forces are acting on this issue?
    1. Uneven record of recruitment and retention of “diverse” students, faculty and staff;
    2. Crushing student loan that disproportionally affect students of color and students from economically disadvantaged background;
    3. Impact of corporatization of higher education;
    4. Disabled students are less ready for college ad need extra support which institutions are not prepared to provide, and their readiness for college;
    5. Demographic shifts and the need to support influx of new students, particularly from:
      1. Growing Hispanic population
      2. Low-income families
    6. Faculty of color being asked to do too much service;
    7. An administration and faculty that do not reflect the diversity of the student body (we are after all a “minority-serving institution”);
    8. The University only talks about enhancing diversity but nothing happens;
    9. Lack of mentoring—people mentor those who are most like them;
    10. Lack of incentive for faculty leadership on issues of diversity and inclusion;
    11. Curriculum continues to be disconnected from the real world;
    12. Continued lack of intergroup dialogues;
    13. Burn-out factor: only a committed core of faculty, staff and students are involved in creating change;
    14. Tokenism;
    15. Stressed out faculty, staff, and students continue to be cynical.
    16. Lack of ownership of “diversity initiatives”; lack of diversity agenda/

  2. Forces in 10 years.
    1. Same issues now as in 10 years—they could be worse if we don’t fix underlying racism, sexism, etc. now;
    2. We will be using the same assumptions to “solve” these problems;
    3. No progress. Concern that in 10 years we will still be at least 10 years behind;
    4. Dealing with consequences of not adopting transformative models of teaching and learning;
    5. Worsening student debt crisis;
    6. Even more complicated diversity issues: immigration, refugees, demographic shifts;
    7. Political change in leadership;
    8. “Subtle” racism that is harder to call out;
    9. Technology continues to impact the ways people communicate and the ways students learn;
    10. More commitment to “business efficiency”—not good.

  3. What are the implications?
    1. If we make no meaningful changes now we will be contending with ever more challenges around “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion”;
    2. We will become irrelevant;
    3. We will be underserving the people that we most need to serve;
    4. Continue to lose faculty of color;
    5. Our students will be ill-prepared to deal with challenges of the 21st Century;
    6. Even guiltier of appropriating racism, classism and sexism unless we take these oppressions seriously;
    7. We won’t be using technology as well as we should to reach underserved populations;
    8. Online instruction will be only a “fad” rather than used as a tool for inclusive education.

  4. Future developments
    1. Diversity, equity and inclusion has to permeate every aspect of strategic planning;
    2. Diversity must mean more than Black and Brown. Must include gender, sexuality, ability, religion, nationality;
    3. Any redress of retention must include consideration of students’ lived reality— for example, homelessness, food insecurity;
    4. Faculty and staff who are committed to diversity and inclusion, especially as it relates to supporting students, need to be valued (beyond giving plagues, certificates, etc.);
    5. Leadership from the very top is needed.