Creating an inclusive academic environment

01-11-2016

During the fall semester here, and at universities across the country, students have raised issues that again remind us of the ongoing need to look at the alignment of our values around diversity and inclusiveness and the practices that foster those values. While creating an inclusive academic environment may be a shared goal, what does it really mean? And how do we accomplish this?

Certainly, elements of an inclusive academic environment include 

  • Classrooms that promote respectful but critical dialogue; places that work to manage the tension of protecting the safety of individuals and academic freedom.
  • Courses, curricula, programs, and research that explore disparate perspectives, frameworks, and narratives while maintaining the highest scholarly standards.
  • A campus where cultural differences are understood, respected, valued, and supported.
  • A campus where every student has an equal chance of academic success, and where the graduation gap between majority and minority students is evaporating.
  • A campus that recruits a diverse faculty and staff, and actively supports their scholarship and success

Certainly this is not a comprehensive list of characteristics, nor does it address the nuance of these characteristics. It does, however, provide a place to begin thinking about what we are—and are not—working toward.

Over the last year and a half in this role, I have come to appreciate some of the very good work that is going on across campus. There are colleges that have engaged in critical conversations around race and bias, others that are committed to multi-cultural programming. There are academic units with “pipeline programs” intended to prepare a more diverse cohort of future faculty, and others working on recruiting a more diverse student population.

Over the next semester, some of that work will be highlighted here. We need to learn from the best practices of our colleagues, and scale those innovations that are having the greatest successes.

And yet we are reminded that our work is far from done. Faculty of color are under-represented on our campus; students of color graduate at a rate lower than majority students; students and faculty on campus still report experiencing the jostle of implicit bias, too often the jolt of outright discrimination. Do our students leave MSU with the intercultural competencies that allow them to be local and global leaders? 

During spring semester each college will be required in its annual planning letter to include its plans for enhancing an inclusive academic environment—to include academic programs, faculty and staff diversity, and climate. None of these challenges are quickly or easily addressed, but in this New Year, let’s commit ourselves again to the core values that account for the legacy—and the future—of Michigan State University’s success:  quality, connectivity, and inclusiveness. 

Please check back often to learn from the current work and the work that is planned.