In recent semesters, Appalachian State University has worked to address a lack of campus diversity. This semester, the university is unveiling six initiatives designed to change its culture and improve its diversity.
The initiatives are the result of collaboration between administrative offices such as the Office of Multicultural Student Development, the Office of Equity, Diversity and Compliance, and various student groups which also offered input into the planning of the initiatives, such as the Appalachian Social Justice Educators, the Chancellor’s Student Advisory Board, The Black Student Association and more.
“Many of the student groups that I work with in MSD played a role [in creating the initiatives],” said Everette Nichols, the interim assistant director of multicultural student development. “Last year we had a number of students attend the Black Lives Matter conference in Arizona and they came back with multiple ideas regarding material they learned at the conference.”
One of the initiatives will expand upon a formal mentoring program for minority students at Appalachian State. The program is available to students who are members of the LEAD program.
In the past, upperclassmen students have mentored underclassmen students in LEAD. Now, another tier to the program is being added and the upperclassmen will also receive mentoring. The students will fill out a questionnaire about their plans for the future and then be given a professional mentor based off that information.
“I think that this is incredibly invaluable,” said Bindu Jayne, the associate vice chancellor for equity, diversity and compliance. “We want to make sure that our upperclassmen students are being mentored about what identity groups they belong to and what aspirations they have.”
The second initiative will provide mandatory training on inclusion and diversity for faculty members.
“The goal is to have conversations about what personal steps we all can take to be cognizant of how inclusive of an environment we are creating,” Jayne said.
Jayne said the initiative was inspired by a similar training program at Appalachian State.
“Last year we had interpersonal violence training for all supervisors, and through that we trained roughly 780 faculty and staff members,” Jayne said. “That model was incredibly successful. We got lots of positive feedback from the faculty who went to that training, so we’re essentially using the same model.”
Jayne said the only thing left for the commission to do is to hire the educator who will provide the training.
Another initiative will provide a bias incident response process. If students, faculty, or staff feel that they are the victims of discrimination or harassment, they can file a complaint online or in person at the Office of Equity, Diversity and Compliance. Their response will then be addressed by a team of staff members from the various offices responsible for the creation of the initiatives, and they will decide on the proper course of action.
Another initiative will expand on the exit interview process for faculty and staff. Currently, Appalachian State surveys departing staff members to see why they’re leaving. However, this process isn’t available to most of the faculty. This initiative will provide all faculty members with the opportunity to complete an exit interview.
“We want to see why they’re leaving, and if there’s anything we could have done to retain them,” Jayne said. “Once we have that data we can start discussing possible changes in policies. It’s also important for us to tease out the demographics of the faculty and staff members that are leaving and figure out why they’re leaving.”
The last two initiatives deal with improving search committees to increase the diversity among the faculty members. The first initiative will be an online training module to educate search committees on the ways implicit biases affect search processes. The other initiative will provide face-to-face education to go more in-depth.
Jayne said the six initiatives are all close to being ready, and should be implemented this semester.
Nichols said he thinks these initiatives will cause gradual change rather than immediate change. He believes it’s important that these changes are gradual in order to change mindsets.
“Nothing instant ever lasts long,” Nichols said. “We need to change the overall culture at App and then the diversity will improve.”
Jayne believes it’s a necessity to improve the diversity on Appalachian State’s campus, not only for the benefit of minority students, but also for the benefit of the entire university.
“One of the goals of higher education is to prepare our students to go off and do amazing work all over the country,” Jayne said. “In order to do that we need to have students who are prepared to think in a diverse manner and also engage with diverse populations of people, and we can’t do that if we don’t have it.”
Story by Tommy Culkin, Senior News Reporter