Diversity Committee’s New Name and New Members Focus on Inclusion
By Tiffany Murray-Robertson
One of the Wilder School’s most integral advisory bodies is being reconfigured. Earlier this month, an overwhelming majority—97 percent of participating faculty and staff—voted to expand the name of a standing committee focused on diversity and equity to the "Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee.” And, for the first time in its history, the committee will include students.
Two student representatives—one undergraduate and one graduate—will be appointed by the dean’s office in the approaching academic year. Each student member will serve a two-year term. Additionally, two new faculty representatives—Ashlee Barnes, Ph.D. and Sarah Raskin, Ph.D.—both assistant professors have been elected to serve on the committee next fall.
“The new name and composition of the committee reflects our shared commitment to broadening the focus of our efforts—which includes attracting and retaining underrepresented faculty and students—as much as creating a culture that leverages the diverse perspectives, approaches and opinions of every member of the Wilder School community,” said Chernoh Wurie, Ph.D. Wurie is an assistant professor and chair of the school’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee.
“The new name and composition of the committee reflects our shared commitment to broadening the focus of our efforts—which includes attracting and retaining underrepresented faculty and students—as much as creating a culture that leverages the diverse perspectives, approaches and opinions of every member of the Wilder School community."
-Chernoh Wurie, Ph.D.
Wurie hopes the committee’s express focus on inclusion will help shift the view held by some of diversity imperatives as a matter of compliance to a more expansive awareness of the factors that inhibit or promote fairness in interactions and practices within the school environment.
“We want folks to have a keen understanding of these issues and to be inspired by their role and potential in cultivating a more inclusive community within the school.”
Part of that strategy involves acknowledging the myriad contributions of faculty and staff in promoting inclusivity and providing more opportunities to showcase these efforts.
“We don’t own these issues,” said Shajuana Isom-Payne, an active committee member and interim assistant dean of student success at the school.
“There is already a great deal of dynamic research and programming around inclusion within the Wilder School that we can leverage. One of our goals is to share this work among our faculty and staff, and eventually among our students.”
In April, members of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee hosted an open workshop for faculty and staff to meet and discuss their efforts to build inclusive communities within their respective roles. About a dozen representatives from the school’s five academic programs, student services and the Centers for Public Policy attended.
“What followed was a really robust discussion around initiatives ranging from the incorporation of specific guidelines to promote respectful dialogue within the classroom, to a review of courses informed by a social equity curriculum. Numerous collaborations were also discussed including a partnership between the Virginia Capital Semester program and HBCUs and even a training course led by Dr. Wurie that is designed to improve the cultural competency of local law enforcement,” said Isom-Payne.
What is next for the committee?
Wurie said he hopes to tap into the results of a recent faculty and staff climate study and to expand opportunities like the April workshop to include students. He wants to know more about what kind of programming and activities they would like to see.
“Part of knowing is asking…so the committee is really looking for ways to hear from all of its constituencies,” he said.
Wurie also remains committed to the committee’s initial charge: to recruit more faculty and students from underrepresented groups.
He is currently at work on a proposal that would formally expand the role of the committee to include representation in all faculty and staff searches. While still in its infancy, the proposal would require the participation of at least one committee member on every Wilder School faculty and staff search. The committee is also exploring an alternative plan that would provide a mandate for a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee briefing for all members of future Wilder School faculty and staff search committees.
“If we are serious about having an inclusive culture and recruiting diverse faculty, students and staff, one of the things that we have to do as a school is ensure that every member of a Wilder School search committee is singing from the same hymn book about the practices and approaches that avoid bias and facilitate change.”
For more information on the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee or for information about becoming a student representative, contact Chernoh Wurie at firstname.lastname@example.org.