Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion 2021 Report evidences collective achievement

By Susan M. Carini | Emory Report | July 13, 2021

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“With bold aspirations and a strong sense of purpose, our aim is to enhance the Emory experience — shaping a campus community that is supportive, inspiring and life-changing for all who learn, work and discover here,” Emory President Gregory L. Fenves notes in a letter introducing the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion 2021 Report. (Photo taken prior to the COVID-19 pandemic)

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Emory’s first chief diversity officer, Carol Henderson, has had full days since touching down in Atlanta for her first days of work heading the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI) nearly two years ago.

Henderson, who also is vice provost for diversity and inclusion and adviser to the president, recalls getting right down to it. She remembers her first decision: Would she co-sponsor “For Peace I Rise”? It is a musical depicting the bond between C. T. Vivian and his wife, Octavia Geans Vivian. Their love story helped ground them in their civil rights work during a volatile period in the nation’s history.

Henderson greenlighted her office’s involvement and went on to participate in two webinars about the play. It was a good call — resulting in S.R. 604 from the Georgia Senate, a resolution commending the production and Emory’s role in it.

It has been a productive time since then, a period of progress toward Emory’s goal of achieving a welcoming climate for all, starting with Henderson herself.

“I want to celebrate the resilience of our community. Even in the midst of COVID-19 and a racial reckoning, we were still committed to the work of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) at Emory. That needs to be celebrated. There was a renewed passion for the work, understanding that it was a catalyst for change. It is a movement not only for Emory but for the nation,” says Henderson. 

The Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion 2021 Report looks across the university, credits the many partners Henderson has had along the way, and chronicles work done both this year and last. The report subdivides into sections on culture and climate, accountability, learning opportunities, community connections, partnerships, programming and a path forward.

President Gregory L. Fenves, in a letter introducing the report, describes the ultimate goal this way: “With bold aspirations and a strong sense of purpose, our aim is to enhance the Emory experience — shaping a campus community that is supportive, inspiring and life-changing for all who learn, work and discover here.”

Evidence of “renewed passion for the work” 

Believing that it was foundational to establish what she calls a “common language” to approach DEI issues, Henderson and the Intercultural Development Advisory Group she formed worked on a glossary of terms and produced Emory’s Institutional Statement on Diversity.

Currently in motion is a campus-wide diversity strategic planning process, which is open to feedback now and will call again for community response once the strategic planning communities conclude their work in November 2021, preparatory to sharing a final report with Fenves in January 2022.

Reflecting our values in the way we do business

With deliberately no fanfare, in 2020 Emory established a Business Diversity Advisory Council (BDAC), co-chaired by Henderson; Alan Anderson, assistant vice president for university partnerships; and Debby Morey, associate vice president for business operations.

“Given our size and the influence that our money has on neighborhoods and communities, I and others saw this work as vital. Every dollar we spend is important, revealing our values,” says Henderson.

Emory has a new supplier diversity manager, Randy Brown, who joined last year and has stepped into a more expansive role. In February of this year, Brown joined Fenves and others for a webinar outlining Emory’s progress in this regard.

Brown’s role is crucially important, but Anderson observes that supplier diversity is just one aspect of an ambitious agenda the BDAC has set. The larger mission, he notes, is to “strengthen businesses with an emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion through a holistic economic-development approach including supplier development, procurement opportunities, hiring and community outreach.”

Graduates of the Start:ME program — a free, small-business training program run in partnership with Goizueta Business School — are seeing benefits not just through the program’s training but also through, in some cases, being hired by Emory.

Campus Services contracted with Start:ME firm Saboor Construction for electrical projects on the Oxford College campus. Another graduate of Start:ME, UMS Movers, helped move students out of residence halls at the start of the pandemic.

Across Emory, there is a realization of the ways that broadening supplier diversity benefits emerging, socially conscious companies and the larger community. The Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, Goizueta Business School and Campus Life have stepped up to examine their 2020 spending with an eye toward broadening their vendors, and Anderson says that other schools and units are eager to follow.

Emory is also deepening ties with the Atlanta Wealth Building Initiative (AWBI), which Anderson describes as “an important backbone organization that will give us a variety of connection points, helping identify vendors who can support our needs.” 

As a founding member of the ATL Action for Racial Equity, an initiative launched in February 2021 by the Metro Atlanta Chamber, Emory is helping lead an effort to get businesses across the region to take a renewed look at their corporate policies, with the goal of launching an inclusive economic development playbook for the initiative as a whole later this year.

The ultimate goal, says Anderson, is for Emory to be squarely among the city’s leaders in “demonstrating good economic citizenship, which leads to the creation of jobs and the sustained economic viability of the entire community.”

Enhanced professional development

Henderson was delighted when Chris Augostini, executive vice president for business and administration, approached her to train his senior leadership team. What ensued was a multipart, yearlong training series facilitated by ODEI and external partners.

“As leaders at Emory, and given our current societal landscape, we feel it is imperative that our team is appropriately educated and empowered to lead with regard to diversity, equity and inclusion. The ODEI team have been great partners, and we developed a curriculum around unconscious/implicit bias, inclusive leadership, setting unit climate and related topics,” says Augostini. 

Other units are welcome to seek similar professional development opportunities for their leadership teams; it will be even easier to do with the recent hiring of Russell T. Griffin, who joined the staff of Learning and Organizational Development at Emory Human Resources on May 17 as director of diversity and inclusion education and outreach. 

Henderson, who participated in the search process for Griffin, notes the “importance not only of professional development but of thought leadership in the organizational evolution of the institution, which Russell will provide. That transformation has to occur structurally, and you have to provide tools and skill development for individuals to be able to make those transformations.”

“We will be creating a learning network for change. This is how we start moving the needle, with everyone having the same language and understanding, the same knowledge base. Then we put structures in place to guide people. I look forward to working with Russell on that,” Henderson continues. 

Other progress with DEI training has been the partnership between ODEI and Donna Troka, director of diversity and inclusive pedagogy at the Center for Faculty Development and Excellence (CFDE). Troka has presented 30 programs across the university on DEI topics. On the topic of inclusive pedagogy — defining it as well as accessing resources and formulating strategies for achieving it — the CFDE offers a variety of options for departments, depending on their needs.

Within ODEI, Allison Butler, director of the Department of Accessibility Services, likewise is always seeking new insight about inclusive pedagogy and found it in the challenges the pandemic posed.

“This ‘COVID-19 year’ occasioned a shift toward prioritizing usability and accessibility needs for all. It required us to reach across disciplines, roles and responsibilities to address the needs of students, faculty and staff,” notes Butler.

“Inclusive pedagogy was at the forefront of this shift. Faculty needed to engage their students in a variety of modalities, including remote instruction. With the assistance of the CFDE, Academic Technologies and a variety of academic partners, we worked to embed flexible teaching practices and best practices for universal design. We shifted beyond compliance to proactively address usability and accessibility needs for the campus community,” she adds.

Better searches engender better faculty diversity

Partnering with the Office of Faculty Affairs, ODEI staff are working with deans and chairs of faculty searches, pursuing a more standardized and robust faculty-recruitment process. It centers on accountability and more proactive ways to diversify candidate pools as well as using templates to minimize bias in the evaluative process and ensure the appropriateness of final candidates.

The two teams also collaborate on the searches for faculty-equivalent positions, librarians and postdoctoral fellows. Since August 2019, they have supported and audited 1,010 searches, of which 166 have been for tenure-track faculty.

In the past year especially, Henderson and Carol Flowers St. John, assistant vice provost for faculty affairs, have met with search committees, suggesting strategies to broaden their applicant pools. And it is fully reciprocal in that Henderson and St. John have been there to listen and address the questions and concerns of search committee members, some of which are unique to their discipline.

“The level of intentionality regarding diversity has been raised,” says St. John, “even though the commitment always has been there. We recognize that we all have to be invested and that it is a continuous improvement and learning process for everyone.”

“We all are devoted to the success of Emory. Diversity brings intellectual robustness and enhances the educational experience. In order to be eminent, we must be inclusive. In order to be inclusive, from a faculty-hiring perspective, we must standardize the use of best practices in faculty search and hiring. We also want to create a climate in which everyone feels welcome and wants to stay. That is the goal behind what we have been doing,” St. John stresses.

Another guiding principle that Henderson and St. John have conveyed is that searches should not be thought of as one-time events. The objective is to have faculty think broadly across their professional lives, including the people they meet at conferences and the memorable research they encounter, such that they are always in a recruitment mindset.

“We are hoping that faculty, on a subconscious level and as they move in their spheres of expertise, make connections with their colleagues,” says St. John. In this way, when searches are initiated, names of appropriate candidates will arise more naturally and be a supplement to more traditional approaches such as advertising.

Henderson calls it “diversity beyond the numbers,” emphasizing that “critical mass and cohort building are important elements because they help our campus reflect the larger world; however, ultimately the work has to be intentional, part of the fabric of our culture.”

As St. John reminds herself, DEI has its roots in the 1960s and the antidiscrimination legislation of that decade. With the literature and evidence-based strategies still evolving, she notes, “there is much more work to do, but I continue to be proud of our efforts to date.”

For those interested in learning more, Chaneta Forts, assistant director for equal opportunity and affirmative action in the ODEI, just established the Faculty Hiring and DEI Newsletter, which will publish biannually.

A path forward 

In the fall, Emory will be participating in the National Assessment of Collegiate Campus Climates, a quantitative survey administered annually at colleges and universities across the U.S. under the auspices of the University of Southern California’s Race and Equity Center.

The survey provides data about undergraduate students’ appraisals of institutional commitment to equity and inclusion, the extent to which they interact meaningfully with diverse others, where and what they learn about race and their feelings of readiness for citizenship in a racially diverse democracy, among other topics. By joining this survey, “we now will be able to measure ourselves against our peer aspirants,” says Henderson. 

“We have great momentum. We want to continue that progress and not get comfortable where we are,” advises Henderson. “There is more for all of us to do given that DEI work is a journey, not a destination.”