We Are One: Inclusion Inside and Outside the Classroom

By: Lauren Jonen

University of Illinois campus
University of Illinois campus

The University of Illinois strives to be a diverse, inclusive institution and is focused on being innovative in hiring diverse leaders all while developing an inclusive campus climate. This includes both individual and collective commitment in order to obtain the highest amount of success. The campus is hard at work to try and implement a more diverse faculty pool. Other goals include assisting underrepresented students in order to help them develop high academic achievements.

The university takes pride in its campus-wide statement of commitment. This statement says that the Illinois community is in support of Chancellor Phyllis Wise’s commitment to the values of Inclusive Illinois: one campus, many voices and the Diversity Values Statement. Inclusive Illinois primarily touches on respecting various cultural identities between faculty, staff, and students. You can click here to read campus’s full statement in regards to Inclusive Illinois.

Illinois recently received recognition through the Insight Into Diversity magazine. The university is a recipient of the 2014 Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award for the second year in a row. This is the only award nation-wide that honors universities that show substantial efforts and success in areas of diversity.

December is a busy month of for inclusion activities on campus. For information of the events going on until the end of the semester, see the diversity calendar!

The Diversity Drive: Expanding Faculty Pools

The U of I campus offers several offices to provide awareness while promoting an inclusive community through diversity, education, and outreach initiatives. One of these services includes the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Access (DEA). This office is responsible for issues pertaining to Affirmative Action, community outreach, training, and education. The DEA’s main goal, as of late, has been focusing on the Affirmative Action Plan. This plan is liable for to facilitate and design systems to report and measure the effectiveness of various programs.

Heidi Johnson - Director of the Office of Diversity, Equity, & Access
Heidi Johnson – Director of the Office of Diversity, Equity, & Access

I got the chance to talk to the Director of the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Access, Heidi Johnson. She briefed me on the university’s history with the Affirmative Action Plan. This plan is set to provide “placement goals for individuals such as those with disabilities, minorities, veterans, and women.” Johnson said both the disability and veteran categories are new as of this past March.

The Affirmative Action Plan covers employees in general. Johnson stated that a committee was formed in September of 2013 to look at faculty recruitment on campus. This committee was named the DRIVE committee, which stands for Diversity Realized at Illinois through Visioning Excellence. The formation of this group helps pinpoint the pipeline problem “we can go out and recruit individuals to apply to our positions so that the pools are more diverse than what they have been in the past.”

I was also able to meet with another one of the committee members, Matthew Ando, who is head of the math department. Ando says he’s excited to see where this full year of the committee being ‘up and

Matthew Ando - DRIVE committee member
Matthew Ando – DRIVE committee member

running’ takes them. By the time DRIVE started working last September, it was pretty late to have an effect last year.

The university has been refilling its faculty pools since the 2007 financial crisis. According to Ando, “the university lost a lot of faculty to the voluntary retirement program and to departures.” Unfortunately the university has never been able to completely rebound from that lost. So part of the reason for DRIVE was to make sure that the faculty pool was being rebuilt while adding an increase of diversity into the mix.

You can find out how U of I is investing in the long-term increase diversity if faculty hiring through both the Affirmative Action Plan and DRIVE committee.

Mentoring, Tutoring, and Workshops: Trio to Success

The university centers a lot of its focus on the students attending not only from all over the nation, but the world too. According to the campus’s Foreign Student Count, there were approximately 5,000 students that came from China and another 1,000 coming from India. With these sorts of numbers it is important to make international students feel included inside and outside the classroom. Another stat from the Enrollment by Curriculum, Race, Sex, Residency concluded that there are over 4,500 more men on campus than women.

OMSA Building location
OMSA Building location

We have our very own Office of Minority Student Affairs (OMSA) on campus. OMSA works to create and support a strong network for students by pairing with deans and academic advisors to offers services. OMSA is one of the longest-running and most comprehensive support programs in the country. It was brought on to campus in the 1960s when leaders had a vision of a diverse student population and persistence in seeing that they are supported.

Dr. Southerland - Director of OMSA
Dr. Southerland – Director of OMSA

I got the change to talk to Dr. Southerland who is the Director of the Office of Minority Student Affairs, along with the Trio program. He talked to me about the four Trio programs that they offer here on this campus. Southerland says “programs start as early as sixth grade, all the way to preparing them for the PhD degree.” OMSA offers Trio services in Upward Bound College Prep Academy and Academic Talent Search College Prep Program.

Ronald McNair - McNair Scholarship Program
Ronald McNair – McNair Scholarship Program

One of their bigger Trio programs is the McNair Scholarship program. When asked what the program includes, Southerland says:

“The program is for students who have been historically underrepresented in graduate education. But it could be quite possible that a student could be a white female in physics, they would certainly be considered underrepresented. The McNair scholars program is funded to serve 36 students.”

Dr. Southerland was able to lead me some of the 2014 McNair Scholars. I got to meet with U of I junior, Jazz Landa, who talked to me about what it means for her to be apart of the program and how it has helped her in her education.

You can learn more about the benefits of OMSA and the Trio programs it offers to underrepresented students, here.

What Does It All Mean?

I asked each person what role they thought diversity plays on this campus at the end of each interview. What I got from them is that diversity is not only important to this institution but to society as a whole. It is especially important in institutions of high learning because that is suppose to be the place you can go and be challenged and hear diverse opinions. It is very critical to realize the vast amount of potential each individual has despite gender or race.

Ultimately, faculty and students want to see more diversity. Staff would love for every student and every employee to go through diversity training but that doesn’t happen as of today. The issue is definitely expanding, but there still needs to be more improvement.