UWL employees working to shrink equity gaps
For years in the UWL Psychology Department, when a faculty member is evaluated, they are asked ‘what have you done to maintain a more inclusive environment?’ That implementation of inclusive teaching practices is something happening across campus and one of several practices faculty and staff hope to spread with the new Equity Liaison Initiative.
The initiative is a strategic, cooperative, campus-wide effort to identify and close equity gaps affecting students and employees. An equity gap is a systemic disparity that affects students and employees or under-represented or under-served populations, such as people of color, the LGBT community, first-generation students and veterans. An example of helping to close equity gaps is providing scholarships for high-achieving, low-income students to attend more selective universities.
“It’s important to have more than just talk,” says Roger Haro. “We need to problem solve.”
The initiative’s goal is to provide the liaisons with data to drive decisions and conversations to help in their departments. “It’s important to have more than just talk,” says Roger Haro, a member of the initiative’s steering committee. “We need to problem solve.”
That is what sets this initiative and the full diversity plan apart from the past diversity plans on campus. The equity liaison initiative promotes organic changes from the ground up. “We want people to do it in a way that makes sense for them and their department,” says Barbara Stewart, Vice-Chancellor of Diversity & Inclusion. “With past diversity plans, some people couldn’t find their place.”
Nizam Arain, director of equity and affirmative action, is optimistic the work done through the equity liaison initiative will help change the culture on campus be a place where equity gaps are regularly closed. To do that, employees cannot think the work has been offloaded just because someone else is focused on it.
“It’s important that the equity liaison program not be a reason for people to stop thinking about equity and diversity,” says Arain. “But rather, I hope it helps others do better.”
Currently, there are about 60 faculty and staff serving as equity liaisons. Once a week, several of them get together for equity chats — an opportunity to share what they’ve learned, what’s working and look for advice from their peers.
The program is supported by “achieving excellence through equity and diversity” pillar of Sustaining Excellence, UWL’s Strategic Plan. Other goals for the pillar this year include improving recruitment and retention efforts of diverse students and employees, implementing best practices for inclusive classrooms and other efforts to provide fully-inclusive education experiences for all students.
“At the end of the day, if you can leave a place better than you found it and make pathways for people to take and do better, then we’ve done a lot,” says Stewart.