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The President’s Commission on Inclusivity (PCOI) launched in fall 2018 with a goal of bringing together students, faculty and staff to co-create a more inclusive campus. In addition to directing progress and making recommendations, the commission also is tasked with monitoring how we are doing, and making recommendations to appropriate all-college governance on how we can continually improve.
With the PCOI’s second academic year now underway, we’re checking in with PCOI co-chairpersons Brenda Bretz ‘95, vice president for institutional effectiveness & inclusivity, and Sam Brandauer ’95, associate provost and executive director for global study & engagement, to learn more about the commission’s work so far, and what lies ahead.
Q: Why is this work important?
Samantha Brandauer (SB): We live in an increasingly diverse and interconnected world, and it’s our responsibility to prepare our students to meaningfully contribute to it. One of the ways we can do that is by providing an opportunity for our entire community to interact with and learn from those whose experiences, cultures and worldviews differ from our own. This work is also about equity and creating a campus culture where everyone feels like they belong. At Dickinson we have a global campus, and so this work extends far beyond our campus boundaries.
Q: How often does the commission meet?
Brenda Bretz (BB): The full commission meets at least once every semester—we meet more often if there are issues brought forward for discussion and recommendation. There are also several subcommittees, which meet monthly.
Q: What has the PCOI accomplished so far?
BB: We’ve been busy! Our accomplishments include: finalizing an inclusivity strategic plan; developing and implementing an employee climate survey; beginning an institutional self-assessment of policies and procedures, using best practices in the field; developing an institutional self-assessment of policies and procedures, also using best practices in the field; building a library of theories and best practices to inform our policies and actions; collaborating with the Department of Marketing & Communications to increase the visibility of inclusivity work on the Dickinson website; and collaborating with the Faculty Personnel Committee and All-College Committee on Academic Program and Standards to develop expectations for faculty development regarding inclusive classrooms. We also supported two proposals, forwarding them to the President's Office staff with our recommendations: the HUB Inclusive Restroom Proposal, a plan to make gender-inclusive facilities available in the HUB; and the House Divided/Dickinson and Slavery proposal to rename residence halls currently named for Dickinsonians who maintained support for slavery after the Civil War.
Q: You’ve noted that while other colleges and universities are doing inclusivity work, Dickinson’s approach is distinctive. How so?
SB: As a global campus, we have taken an intercultural approach. Inclusivity is too often examined solely through the lens of U.S. higher education. We need to constantly challenge that approach and remember how far-reaching the boundaries of our community are.
BB: This is very unusual, and it’s a tribute to our campus, where [equity and global-ed] professionals actually collaborate and work well together. Also, we are applying the Dickinson approach to include as many individuals on campus as possible. This means that the commission is a bit unwieldy in size, but we address that by working in subcommittees, which also allows us to reach out and involve more people. These conversations are happening more because we have goals we are working in common to achieve. We question and test and challenge one another. Because we have articulated our vision for inclusivity in our plan and have clearly articulated our goals, we do not have to hold onto and control all aspects of the process. If folks are working toward the same goal, we encourage their unique and enthusiastic ideas and input.
Q: How does the PCOI work with other groups, departments and centers across campus?
BB: Because of the membership on the commission, and additional representation from across campus on various subcommittees, there is a natural tie with all areas of campus. We work closely to coordinate programming, avoid duplication and event conflicts and to identify learning gaps and plan how to fill them.
What’s new this semester?
BB: This semester we’re focusing on professional development for faculty regarding inclusive pedagogy and inclusive classrooms.
Q: Regarding the commission, what are you most excited about?
BB: I see greater participation in inclusivity events and activities. I believe there is an increased curiosity and openness to learn more about ourselves and others. We’ve had several well-attended discussion groups and book groups that generated deep, rich discussion. I'm excited that community members are thoughtful about how to reflect on their learning and how to apply that learning.
SB: While we know there will be positive outcomes, we are not sure what this will mean for our community moving forward. Here’s what I mean: When you invite different people into the conversation, many of whom have been marginalized, and you start really listening to each other, new ideas, innovations and pathways become possible. I am excited to hear these new voices and collaborations and see where they take us. Everyone should be excited about that!
Q: Who are the current commission members?
BB [referring to the PCOI website]: Joining the chairpersons on the committee are:
Q: What do you most want the Dickinson community to know about the PCOI?
BB: Inclusivity means all of us. That seems obvious when you think about the definition of the word, but I’ve heard folks comment that either inclusivity means that we have to all just get along and assimilate or that there is so much focus on how we are different that it is actually divisive rather than unifying. Inclusivity does depend on us being able to recognize and appreciate the unique characteristics, qualities, values and experiences that each of us brings to our community. This does mean that we have to understand those things about ourselves. How do my experiences and my values and my worldview influence how I understand a situation? How I respond to a comment? Recognizing these things about myself is not to stand off from others, but rather to learn enough to recognize what we hold in common. Once we establish that, we can better appreciate and begin to recognize and seek to understand how when we contribute our differences to this community we actually enhance it and we all feel as if we are welcome here.
SB: We have a lot learn from each other and to gain by committing to this. As Brenda states, first and foremost we are going to learn a lot about ourselves. Inclusivity is worth the investment, both personally and for our community.
Q: How can I get involved?
BB: We welcome any Dickinson campus community member interested in getting involved to join one of the subcommittees. You do not need to be on the commission to be an active and influential member of the subcommittees that are moving this work forward. If you are interested in getting involved, please contact Sam or I.
Published March 5, 2020