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Wayne State forms diversity, inclusion group to evaluate campus climate

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After this summer’s Black Lives Matter movement sparked calls for action around the country, Wayne State College vowed to address its own campus climate.

In June, Marysz Rames, Wayne State’s president, announced her intention to improve equality at the college starting with race conversations this fall. The effort has transformed into a new organization: a campus Diversity Equity Inclusion Action Team.

Rames said COVID-19 has delayed the process. Because conversations and forums are more successful in person, Rames doesn’t want to host them virtually, she said.

The team is now planning its first meeting this month as the beginning step in a long process of discussion, evaluation and data collection.

“Ultimately, the goal is to make sure everyone has an opportunity to thrive and be successful here at Wayne State,” Rames said. “As I look at the work we have done, I believe we are a welcoming campus, but there is always room for improvement. We’re accessing the current climate, what we can do better to support all individuals.”

The team is made up of 12 members, including administrators, faculty, students and a community representative. Its goal is to create several recommendations on how to improve campus climate and diversity for Rames by March 1.

C.D. Douglas, vice president for student affairs, is the team’s chair and said the process will include student surveys, focus groups, interviews, forums and a load of research, among other efforts.

Because of a condensed fall semester because of COVID-19, the team is running short of time to complete any of the planned projects before Nov. 25. Instead, the remainder of the semester will be dedicated to research, while the spring semester will include more organized events and projects.

“We have about a month to try to figure out our game plan and what we’d like to do,” Douglas said. “One of the things we can do before the semester ends is to look at our data and try to figure out how many students and staff of (different) backgrounds we do have on the Wayne campus.”

Rames said she wants to focus first on faculty, staff and students of color but then shift into looking into other underrepresented groups to create help initiatives for change.

Once she receives recommendations from the Diversity Equity Inclusion Action Team, Rames said it’s possible changes could start being made in late spring, but most of the initiatives will begin in the fall of 2021.

“When constantly looking for ways to improve, we need to do it in areas of diversity,” she said. “I think we have done great work, but we’re (thinking about) what can be better.”

About 19% of Wayne State students are students of color, which is up from 8% in 2010, according to college data. This jump is partly because the college has been partnering with several rural school districts in pathway programs that have helped recruit more minorities.

Staff diversity is also an issue. As of November 2019, the college had no Black full-time instructional staff members, according to a survey from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

While the Diversity Equity Inclusion Action Team has 12 members, Douglas said he set aside another slot for the incoming director for student diversity and inclusion.

The college has been searching for a director for more than a year. This summer, Douglas received a pool of candidates but ended up restructuring the open position to better fit Wayne State’s needs with multicultural affairs and diversity, he said.

Douglas is in the final stages of selecting the right candidate after rounds of interviews. Douglas said he wants to fill the position by Thanksgiving.

For now, the Diversity Equity Inclusion Action Team will start brainstorming goals and issues members want to address for the March recommendations. The team also will work closely with the President’s Council for Diversity, which will help implement any changes. The group regularly helps with strategic planning at the college.

Douglas said the process will take time — the group won’t be able to come to a conclusion without interviews, surveys and focus groups over the next several months.

“It’s all through discovery. One thing we want to figure out is what our perception is right now when it comes to race and ethnicity on campus,” Douglas said. “I’m sure there is a large range — some people will think we don’t have any issues, but some students might say, ‘Oh you don’t recognize it because you aren’t the ethnicity that deals with race issues on campus.’ We’ll come up with a game plan on what we can improve upon — on either what we aren’t doing well or how we can do a better job.”

This content was originally published here.

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