Strikwerda responds to diversity editorial

TEMP ORARY February 2, 2012 0

My thanks to the staff members of the Etownian for opening a discussion on the status of the diversity plan at Elizabethtown College. That tells me is two things: 1) students value and, as they should, demand a diverse educational experience and 2) we need to do a better job of sharing the good news of the progress to date. There is much that has been accomplished, and we are committed to providing regular communication about the efforts to create a diverse, inclusive and equitable college community. Let me clarify some misinformation and assumptions:

Embracing Inclusive Excellence: A Five-Year Plan for Strengthening Campus Diversity is the ONLY plan that has been endorsed by the trustees and faculty of the College. The two previous diversity plans to which the Etownian refers were never endorsed nor adopted for implementation. The current five-year plan is both “real and measurable,” a plan with specificity. I applaud our community for demanding that the plan be actionable.

Although I am aware that opinions about diversity expressed on campus last year generated controversy, I am disappointed that the Etownian opened the diversity conversation with the assertion that our College isn’t ready for diversity. On the contrary, students regularly express to me that they are grateful for the opportunity to live and learn with faculty members and peers who challenge them to think differently about themselves and the world around them.

The data cited by the Etownian is taken from a campus climate survey that is nearly four years old. I expect the College will undertake another survey in fall 2012, providing more current data on the campus climate which will measure progress since the implementation of the diversity plan. I look forward to seeing those more relevant survey results.

If you aren’t already, I invite you to become familiar with the Embracing Inclusive Excellence: A Five-Year Plan for Strengthening Campus Diversity. The entire plan is available at http://www.etown.edu/about/inclusive-excellence/ and was endorsed by the faculty assembly and adopted by the College’s Board of Trustees in October, 2009. In fact, this week the Board of Trustees is assembled for their annual winter meeting where the agenda calls for a briefing of the Board on the progress we have made on the plan.

In the first two years of the five-year plan, 75 percent of the specific action items identified in the Plan have been completed or launched. While the diversity website outlines highlights of the progress to date, a more detailed account of our successful implementation recently has been added. Please take time to review the Plan progress to date at the URL above. Among some of the most current highlights:

  • The extension of health benefits for domestic partners of employees.
  • An incoming class that is 10 percent ethnically diverse.
  • Recruitment and marketing materials which more accurately reflect diversity on campus.
  • The introduction of the Momentum program for first-generation and ethnically diverse students.
  • The establishment of an ALANA Student Scholarship.
  • The creation of multicultural living-learning communities.
  • Campus-wide training for employees next week on how to prevent sex discrimination and harassment in our work and learning environment.
  • A new online crime reporting form (with an anonymous reporting option).
  • A focus in new student orientation on appreciating and understanding diverse perspectives.

Building on the Inclusive Excellence Plan, the proposed 2012-2017 Strategic Plan calls for the College to attract and retain a dynamic and diverse student body of 2,000 by 2017. Actions to achieve this goal include support for an expanded Momentum program, a new ESL program and one or more pre-college cohort programs with urban high schools, thereby enrolling and retaining a larger number of diverse students. Recognizing that the College is always interested in recruiting high quality employees, the Strategic Plan also calls for increasing racial and ethnic diversity among staff in order to be more reflective of diversity in the region (11 percent). Currently, 15 percent of our faculty is ethnically diverse.

The recent Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration was a wonderful opportunity to open up real dialog about our College’s commitment to diversity. The week-long series of events, which has grown from a one-day event, signifies the collaborative efforts of our students and the administration. That said, we look forward to the day when this kind of celebration involves even more students, faculty and staff. I hope that the Etownian can assist in that regard both before and after this annual celebration.

Real progress has been made, but the hard work of accomplishing the final 25 percent of the diversity plan remains. Our commitment to a campus community that encourages individuality and embraces differences will never end. I invite students, faculty and staff to join me in making the Inclusive Excellence Plan a “real lived experience.”

Read the Etownian's Editorial

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