ODI will create community conversations, more inclusivity

To live up to its mission, Guilford College needs an Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

For some members of the Guilford community, I’m sure it doesn’t feel awfully long ago that former President Kent Chabotar announced the Administrative and Program Services Assessment initiative.

It took two years for a team of nine Guilford staff members, one student and outside consultants to assess the state of our College’s administrative, academic and athletic departments. This all happened at a time when Guilford’s budgetary and financial situation was up in the air.

The final APSA report was published in September 2013, when I was just a doe-eyed first-year student. Three years later, I would say the dust has settled on administrative changes.

Perhaps that is unfortunate.

Under President Jane Fernandes, we’ve seen a bunch of departmental shuffling and staff changes. All the vice presidents that worked with Chabotar have left, and new faces have taken their places.

In fact, some of the positions and their responsibilities have changed.

The College consolidated Administration and Finance, once two distinct entities, into one department with one vice president. Marketing, once a division within Advancement, now has its own vice president that reports directly to Fernandes.

One change we haven’t seen is with our diversity resources.

Don’t get me wrong, we have a superb existing resource in the Multicultural Education Department.

The MED uplifts students, many from marginalized groups, in their academic and social lives. They lead Understanding Racism workshops year in and year out for the community.

But in my assessment, the MED is stretched too thin.

“We tend to do the programmatic support for students and also the institutional work,” said Irving Zavaleta ’08, assistant director of Multicultural Education and Latino community coordinator.

We shouldn’t expect one department to handle all of the educational and student engagement initiatives that the MED does while expecting that same department to foster change at the institutional level that will make Guilford a more accepting and inclusive place.

It’s also discouraging that the MED reports to Academic Affairs. For a department to enforce its initiatives, shouldn’t it have a direct line to the president?

That’s why I support the creation of an Office of Diversity and Inclusion at Guilford.

Many public and private universities have offices devoted to diversity and inclusion in the United States. Even federal government agencies have ODIs.

The idea isn’t new. One of the oldest offices in higher education, Ohio State University’s ODI, was founded in 1970.

Here at Guilford, Zavaleta said such an office would have more teeth if it had a leader who occupied a vice president-level position.

“We could move forward in a more holistic way if we had an Office of Diversity and Inclusion,” said Zavaleta.

Structurally, an ODI at Guilford would be in charge of carrying out existing institutional programs and initiatives while planning future ones. The MED could continue focusing their time and effort on student programs while stepping in to cooperate with ODI and reinforce campus change.

Perhaps the MED could even fold into the organizational structure of an ODI and maintain a relationship with Academic Affairs and Student Affairs.

Guilford has a chance to lead other institutions and practice what it preaches.

Of the 15 colleges and universities identified as peer institutions in Guilford’s strategic plan five years ago, only one institution, St. Norbert College, has anything resembling an ODI.

The head of St. Norbert’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is a senior adviser to the president.

Because of our media and technology, Americans are acutely aware of the systemic biases that exist for people of all sorts of colors, creeds, orientations and backgrounds. Guilfordians are laser-focused on these biases because they’re creating disparities in wages, fracturing of communities and ending innocent lives.

Creating an ODI would be the perfect way to build upon the dialogue started by Black Lives Matter and Integrity for Guilford here in the community.