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March 6, 2024: Division of Inclusive Excellence Quarterly Update

By Division of Inclusive Excellence

Cover of the Inclusive Excellence Yearbook with several photos and text which reads “Moving Toward Inclusive Excellence 2023 Inclusive Excellence Yearbook.

The Division of Inclusive Excellence (IE) is working diligently to advance DEIA at the College. Through collaboration with the Office of Communications, we have completed production of the first Inclusive Excellence Yearbook. This document summarizes some noteworthy initiatives and recent contributions to diversity, equity, inclusion, antiracism and accessibility at Whitman. A modest number of yearbooks are being printed for distribution, but a digital version can be found on the IE website. 

After a 2022–2023 academic year with no staff transitions, the Division of Inclusive Excellence currently has two staff vacancies. Searches are underway for a new Director of LGBTQIA+ Student Services and for a Senior Director of Identity and Belonging (SDIB). The SDIB position is a reimagined version of the DEIA Project Specialist position previously held by Whitman alum Quin Nelson ’16, who left the college in December. 

In February, the Division sponsored a College Accessibility Committee event focused on accessible event planning. The hosted webinar was offered by the Association for Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) of which Whitman is an institutional member. Access to additional AHEAD webinars will be provided through the remainder of the semester.

Also in February, in collaboration with Human Resources, the Division formally launched an Employee Resource Groups (ERG) program. ERGs engage in activities intended to contribute to the well-being, success and retention of employees. Common among Fortune 500 companies, ERGs are also part of the different DEI efforts in higher education, including at other Northwest Five Consortium (NW5C) institutions. Approved ERGs will receive institutional sponsorship to support their activities. Both exempt and nonexempt employees can participate in ERG activities during the workday (with supervisor approval) for up to an hour each week without penalty or loss of compensation. ERGs must be open to all employees, but can be focused on the needs, concerns, interests of a particular cultural community (e.g. disabled, LGBTQIA2S+, Latine, Muslim, veterans, etc.) or even themed around a shared interest (knitting, gaming, outdoor adventure, etc.). At the time of this report, two ERGs have already been formed and approved (Women of Color Collective, Foreign Born Faculty and Staff Association). 

Earlier this semester, as part of the Dialogue and Dignity initiative, the Division coordinated presentations and workshops on Nonviolent Communication (NVC). Dr. Roxy Manning and Aya Caspi visited the campus and delivered a public workshop on the practice of NVC and held a number of smaller sessions with different departments and groups to further explore the value of the practice in connecting across difference. One Whitman employee who participated in the session shared, “The presentation created by Roxy Manning and Aya Caspi is easily the most impactful I've attended while working for Whitman College.”

This semester also saw the launch of a series of DEIA Microlessons and Skillshops organized by a subcommittee of the Inclusive Excellence Council (IEC). Microlessons deliver diversity, equity and inclusion content in a digestible way and utilizes campus expertise to build DEIA capacity. Sessions this semester have focused on racial battle fatigue, intersectionality, navigating microaggressions, and more. 

The IEC is also making considerable progress in building out the DEIAA strategic priorities. In mid-February, the IEC held two campus feedback sessions where the emerging DEIAA projects/initiatives were shared and additional recommendations were collected from campus stakeholders. Over the next two to three months, the IEC will engage in a process of fleshing out the amassed DEIAA strategic goals with a focus on defining the appropriate metrics, consulting with the responsible parties, estimating associated costs, and working to secure a commitment from relevant stakeholders to pursue.

The work to establish Posse at Whitman is also progressing according to schedule. A small Whitman delegation traveled to Chicago in December to select the first Whitman Posse cohort. We have identified the Faculty Mentor that will be assigned to the Posse scholars. Dr. Aaron Aguilar-Ramirez has agreed to serve in this role and support the first group of 10 Posse scholars from Chicago. Both the Posse Mentor and the Whitman Posse Liaison (VPIE) will attend mandatory training for those roles this summer and the mentor will travel to Chicago in early August to connect with the students who comprise Whitman Posse #1 prior to their arrival on campus. We have also begun preparations for the Posse Plus Retreat. The retreat is part of the Posse program and typically involves a 2-day overnight convening with the Posse students and several of their Whitman peers, along with a number of faculty, staff and administrators. The Posse Chicago staff will fly in to participate and Posse identifies facilitators who will travel to our region to lead the Whitman attendees through a thematic retreat intended to build connections and institutional capacity to support the Posse students. The tentative date for Whitman’s first Posse Plus Retreat is February 21–23, 2025.

Equity and Compliance/Title IX

The Office of Equity and Compliance ended 2023 with two deputy Title IX coordinators, six volunteer internal process advisors, a decision maker chair and an informal resolution facilitator. Employee turnover has posed a challenge and they are currently seeking full-time staff willing to volunteer as Deputy Title IX Coordinators and process advisors.

Following the start of January, the office concluded the fall 2023 semester with over 34 reports of identity and sex-based discrimination and/or harassment. This marks a significant increase of about 145% compared to the fall of 2022. A majority of incidents were reported through third parties and/or the online bias response system. Among the remediation options, the most popular remediation option was supportive measures, accounting for 33% of cases. Supportive measures have included referrals to counseling and the Sexual Assault Victim's Advocate, increased security surveillance, no contact orders, and academic intervention, among others. We also offered consultative and awareness resolutions, focusing on making respondents aware of the harm that has been caused and advising complainants of further steps. For more insight into reports of sex and gender-based harassment and discrimination, you may view our comprehensive report for the 2022-2023 academic year, available here.

Committed to addressing the full scope of identity-based violence, Whitman College is proud to participate in the 8th cohort of NASPA’s Culture of Respect. This ambitious two-year program brings together institutions of higher education that are dedicated to ending campus sexual violence and guides institutions like Whitman College through a rigorous process of self-assessment and strategic organizational change. In collaboration with Kersten Bergstrom, Assistant Director of Community Health, Sexual Violence Prevention Specialist, the Office of Equity and Compliance has assembled a team of representatives across campus and will guide a committee consisting of students, staff, and faculty, to create lasting change in preventing and addressing sexual violence. 

Religious and Spiritual Life

As part of the college’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day programming, the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life (RSL) collaborated with the Intercultural Center to bring recording artist Chris Pierce to campus. A soul and blues performer with a repertoire of protest and civil rights songs, Chris performed at the Gesa Power House Theatre and facilitated a songwriter’s workshop.

RSL worked closely with a group of students, faculty, and staff to organize Holocaust Remembrance Day events in late January. Events included a memorial featuring musical performances by members of Whitman’s music faculty and the screening of two documentary films including a virtual conversation with award-winning filmmaker Daniel Lombroso. 

RSL is actively supporting and advising several of Whitman’s spirituality-focused student organizations: Muslim Student Association, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Zen Meditation Club, South Asian Student Association, Kehillat Shalom, and Catholic Community on Campus. 

Intercultural Center

In January, the Intercultural Center (IC) continued the tradition of the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Legacy Walk. Working in collaboration with Walla Walla University’s Center for Humanitarian Engagement, and the Gesa Power House Theatre, the IC, in partnership with RSL, gathered participants at Reid Campus Center and proceeded to the Gesa Power House Theatre where they were treated to a musical performance by guest artist Chris Pierce. Following the performance, attendees were invited to the Blue Mountain Action Council food bank for a service project creating food packages.

In February, the IC organized a series of events to honor Black history and culture. The programmatic offerings for the heritage month included a guest presentation on how biracial students navigate their identity, a collaborative game night with Whitman and Walla Walla University student organizations, a vendor market highlighting local Black-owned businesses, and a screening of the animated film, “Spiderman: Across the Spider-Verse.”

The IC Director, along with the DEIA Project Specialist in the fall, have been providing advising and logistical support to the student organizers of the Power and Privilege Symposium. The symposium was held on February 22nd and featured ten different sessions with the goal of raising awareness and inspiring action to dismantle oppressive systems. The keynote speaker for this year’s symposium was activist, community organizer, and author Linda Sarsour. The event also featured a closing concert with hip-hop/R&B collective Sounds of the People. More than 900 people attended this year’s P&P Symposium. 

Published on Mar 6, 2024
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