By: Aleksandra Sidorova
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion officially welcomed the campus community to the office’s new home in the Angell College Center’s H.U.B. on Thursday, Sept. 7. The reception introduced new DEI staff and announced upcoming events and programs.
Multicultural Student Success Coach Travis Gorham set the TV up to play a selection of non-explicit hip-hop tracks as a crowd of about 40 filled the space. Gorham had been working in the H.U.B. ever since he assumed his position a year ago, but Vice President for DEI Allison Heard is new to working in the space. Part of her office resembles the dining room of a modern apartment, but is still in the process of being decorated after its move from Hawkins Hall during the summer.
Heard said her department “loved Hawkins,” but the best part of working in the H.U.B. was that all staff can work in the same space and be closer to students. It also makes referrals, especially to other departments located within the ACC, easier — instead of telling students where something is, they can walk them there.
“When we’re talking about students walking from different places on campus, it’s not just a matter of walking, it’s also their time,” Heard said. “We know that our students are busy. They also work and they’re tending the family needs, they’re playing sports, they’re in student clubs.”
Heard also said more students visit DEI now that it’s in the H.U.B., as opposed to its Hawkins office.
“Even in the summer, when, you know, there’s not a ton of students on campus, we probably still have more students who are visiting us here,” Heard said. “It’s been great.”
Also now working in the H.U.B. are Mike Thompson, who serves as the affirmative action officer and special projects coordinator; David Duprey, executive director of the Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Center; and Jennifer Bleaux, the division’s administrative assistant. The H.U.B. used to be home to Enrollment and Student Success, which is now based on the sixth floor of Kehoe.
Thompson spent the past 24 years working in Human Resource Services, ensuring compliance with laws around diversity in employment. His work wasn’t much different from what he does now, he said, but in DEI he can be more proactive. Instead of thinking in terms of “legal and illegal,” he can expand to considering whether it’s “proper.” Thompson plans to host a series of “brown bag sessions” or “lunch-and-learns” — meetings based on discussion and collaboration that usually happen during lunchtime.
Thompson’s role currently directly serves solely employees in challenging their unconscious bias and training them to provide equitable service. However, he said, this training can benefit students in the long run through improved interactions. Heard said such training will allow students to feel welcome enough to reach out to staff not limited to DEI.
Duprey was formerly an English language support specialist at the Learning Center, working primarily with international students. Now, he will work to raise student awareness for the TRHT circles.
“It’s a whole new career shift,” Duprey said. “But what’s important to know about English education is, I was always working with international students. Even before I came here, I was living in another country, working with international students. So I was always working for social justice and equity. That’s really helped me be prepared for this.”
TRHT circles are currently held at the H.U.B. on the first Friday of every month, at noon, which doesn’t get much student involvement because students are busy having lunch, Duprey said. Some ways Duprey said he will try to do that is by establishing student teams, offering more circles in the evening or other times that are convenient for students, involving student clubs and bringing circles to students — for example, into classrooms. All circles are based on sharing personal experiences based on prompts.
“The advantage of that would be a larger population involved in the healing process,” Duprey said. “I always tell students, ‘Your lived experience is your lived experience.’ It’s important that everybody knows that their story does matter.”
Another new DEI staff member is Interim Title IX Coordinator Bill Boerner. He can be reached by email or phone, but he is occasionally present on campus. Heard said the college is still searching for a permanent Title IX coordinator who would have a physical office on campus, also within the ACC.
Also new this semester is DEI’s Passport Retention Program — a series of events and workshops where, according to a promotional flier, students can “earn cool swag, prizes and valuable skills.” The skills targeted include planning, time management, studying, research and self-care. Through this program, students can also receive guidance on career advancement, academic advising, accessibility resources and nutrition. If students visit or contact Gorham, they can get a “passport card,” which can be punched at events and submitted for a chance to win prizes.
In their speeches, Heard, Gorham, Thompson and Duprey all said they followed an “open door policy.” Heard explained that part of this policy involves improved internal communications, so that every staff member knows enough to be able to help a student.
“We don’t want students to ever feel like they’re going to come here and be turned away,” Heard said.
An “open door policy” also includes nontraditional hours. Heard said DEI staff are on campus for events held in the evenings and on the weekends.
“We know our students’ lives don’t start at 8 in the morning and they don’t end at 4,” Heard said. “We just want to make sure we’re accessible.”
A properly executed open door policy can make a world of difference for students.
“I think it needs to be more than just a thing that we say,” Duprey said. “What we’re trying to do here is make you feel like, yes, not only is this door open, but this room is open, our movement is open, this university is open. We’re trying to let everyone know that we are here for you, in any capacity. For students, I can’t think of a better way to live on this campus than to know that doors are open, that they have the accessibility to reach out if they need it.”
In a previous interview, Heard said the decision to move DEI to the H.U.B. space was based entirely on student feedback. It is a space that students use to study, hang out and host events. DEI’s reception offered attendees juice, cookies, egg rolls, chicken tacos and chips with salsa or guacamole.
“This is sort of like a house, right? You know, a living room, a dining room,” Heard said, concluding the round of welcome speeches by Gorham, Duprey and Thompson, as well as College President Alexander Enyedi. “We are so open to sharing a space with you, so we want you all to feel comfortable.”