Update on diversity and inclusion efforts

Feb. 24, 2016

Dear Students, Faculty and Staff,

Last December, working with student representatives from the Ford Hall 2015 protests, we developed an implementation plan for diversity, inclusion and racial justice at Brandeis University. Since then, faculty, department chairs and administrators have worked to advance the initiatives outlined in this plan.

Although there is still much to accomplish and our journey is ongoing, I would like to share with you some of the progress made thus far. Over the coming months, we will provide additional updates about this important work as our efforts continue.

Appointing a chief diversity officer. Brandeis is working with the search firm Witt/Kieffer on a national search for our chief diversity officer, a new position at the university. The search committee, which will be chaired by Interim Provost Irv Epstein, will be composed of four students (two undergraduate and two graduate), four faculty members, four staff members and a member of the Board of Trustees.

Improving faculty recruitment/retention. A policy on target of opportunity appointments is in the process of being finalized with input from the Faculty Senate and the Committee on Faculty Rights and Responsibilities. The number of these appointments will depend on what the budget can accommodate. The deans are also working on mentoring plans for junior faculty, and discussions are underway on how to give recognition to faculty who devote extra time to working with students on issues related to diversity and inclusion. In Arts and Sciences, Dean Susan Birren reports that diversity representatives on faculty search committees have been meeting monthly.

Improving student recruitment. Efforts to identify and contact diverse prospective students have been accelerated to increase the diversity of the applicant pool. Andrew Flagel, senior vice president for students and enrollment, reports that, as of February 22, undergraduate applications for the upcoming academic year have increased 8.2 percent overall, including a 14.8 percent increase among African-Americans and an 18 percent increase among Latino/Hispanic students. Although the yield on admitted applicants remains a challenge, the university is dedicated to improving it. In the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, a new pilot program based on the Posse model will offer a full-tuition scholarship and a $10,000 stipend to as many as five students a year.

Enhancing student services. Hiatt Career Center staff members have participated in professional development in multicultural competencies. In the Psychological Counseling Center, additional counselors are being recruited to strengthen diversity. Three members of the Academic Services staff — Erika Smith, Elena Lewis and Brian Koslowski — received professional training from the International Ombudsman Association and are serving during the spring semester in an ombudsperson role, providing undergraduate and graduate students with a place to talk in confidence about any campus-related concern.

Increasing accountability and reporting. Members of the Provost's Steering Committee on Diversity are currently vetting experts in diversity and inclusion to structure trainings for all senior managers, deans, department chairs and division heads. A group that includes the Registrar’s Office and the Office of Planning and Institutional Research is mining existing sources of data regarding different populations at Brandeis. You can see the first results of this work in the table on historically underrepresented groups here. A new campus-climate survey that will be administered to the student body is being developed, to examine issues of diversity and inclusion.

Enhancing excellence in teaching and learning. In the Center for Teaching and Learning, reading groups on diversity and inclusion have been organized, and faculty are meeting to discuss such books as “Whistling Vivaldi,” by Claude Steele, which focuses on the impact of stereotypes on student learning, and “Race and Class Matters at an Elite College,” by Elizabeth Aries, which explores how race and socioeconomic class influence undergraduate friendship networks.  Dean Birren is creating a task force composed of faculty, students and staff to review undergraduate degree requirements; as part of its deliberations, the group will consider how to incorporate issues of race, equity and inclusion in university requirements.

Involving alumni. Efforts are underway to increase the involvement of younger alumni in the Alumni of Color group. Patsy Fisher, vice president of alumni relations, notes that the group will be co-sponsoring a campus talk by Margo Jefferson ’68 on her critically acclaimed book “Negroland: A Memoir” on Thursday, March 3.

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Finally, our students have been actively engaged in developing large and small forums to discuss diversity and inclusion on campus. The student-organized diversity conference, “America From Within,” will be held at Brandeis on Saturday, February 27. Organizers say this conference “aims to foster multifaceted discussions that incorporate but are not limited to the influence of race, gender and background, and allow students to gain perspective through one another.” For more information, see deisversity.strikingly.com.

Thank you for all you are doing to make Brandeis a more diverse, more inclusive and stronger community. This work is part of the fabric of who we have always been as Brandeisians — committed, passionate and resourceful in the pursuit of social justice and equality for all.

As we continue to develop the various action items in the implementation plan, I urge all of us to remember that this effort is our shared undertaking. Please reach out to one another with compassion and insight, to ensure that we are growing toward one another, not apart.


Lisa M. Lynch