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Miami seeks to improve diversity and inclusion

According to the Postsecondary National Policy Institute (PNPI), African American students make up 14 percent of the undergraduate student population at 4-year public institutions. At Miami University, African Americans make up only 4 percent of the undergraduate student population.

The associate vice president of institutional diversity, Ron Scott, and members of the Climate Survey Task Force gathered on Thursday, Sept. 5 and Friday, Sept. 6 to discuss the recommendations they hope the university will appraise to enhance diversity and inclusion on Miami's campus.

The Climate Survey Task Force recommendations, which were fully compiled in March 2019, consist of 22 goals the task force wants Miami to consider to improve student, staff, faculty and administrative experiences.

All of the recommendations the task force compiled were influenced by the One Campus Climate Survey conducted in the fall of 2017, to which only 17 percent of undergraduate students responded.

Rankin and Associates, the third-party company that Miami hired to conduct the survey, deemed the university's climate findings to be consistent with those of higher education institutions across the country.

"I think [undergraduate students] were incentivized [to take the survey]," Scott said. "Before President Gregory Crawford got here, there was a clamour to do the climate survey from faculty, staff and students, and he did the climate survey, and folks choose not to do it."

The task force divided its recommendations into three categories: training and education, communication and assessment.

The Strategic Planning Committee, University Provost Jason Osborne and Crawford are analyzing the task force's recommendations and will be responsible for implementing the proposals they deem most impactful and realistic.

To evaluate the effectiveness of university communication regarding benefits, services and policies, the task force recommends the university increase their social media presence and encourage faculty to communicate with each other more often.

Miami Human Resources, the University Communication and Marketing Department (UCM) and the President's office have begun implementing these strategies by creating the Miami Stories Newsletter, using all-university communication memos and updating the Diversity and Inclusion website.

In order to increase retention rates of diverse staff and faculty members, the task force recommends leaders have more informal lunches and interactions with faculty and staff while continuing to push for attendance at campus events.

Scott said he believes Crawford will come to a conclusion on whether or not the university will re-implement a faculty and staff dining area by the end of this year to increase camaraderie and build friendships.

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1809, a campus dining area designated for faculty and staff, closed in 2014.

"[Crawford's] intent is to not bring back 1809, but to bring back the 1809 experience," Scott said.

In an effort to combat racist and xenophobic behavior at Miami, the university is requiring all first-year students to go through a diversity and inclusion training and a bias training. They also encourage all student organizations to complete these modules.

"Worse case scenario is, in four years all students on this campus will have gone through the training," Scott said. "Better scenario is that within two to three years we will have completed the training for everyone."

In the One Campus Climate Survey Report, 26 percent of respondents who indicated they had personally experienced exclusionary, intimidating, offensive and/or hostile conduct believed it was because of their gender or gender identity. Meanwhile, only 12 percent of LGBTQ respondents felt "very comfortable" with overall climate compared with 23 percent of heterosexual respondents.

Last semester, to expand diversity and inclusion awareness, Miami's Center for American World Cultures implemented a pilot program with intergroup dialogue sessions for undergraduate students. The center also added the courses Voices of Discovery (IDS 253) and Strength Through Cultural Diversity (IDS 159). The Intro to the Miami Tribe course will be available next semester.

Additionally, Crawford established the Miami Institute for Leadership and Executive Advanced Development (MI_LEAD) in August 2018. The program is designed to take up-and-coming leaders and expose them to a series of lectures and interactions with senior leadership with the hope that one day, they may become future Miami administrators.

To conduct meaningful assessments, the university hopes to orchestrate regular audits assessing the campus climate but is unsure which mechanism will carry out these processes.

Scott believes the Council of Diversity and Inclusion (CODI) should be the organization that conducts annual campus climate assessments, but The Strategic Planning Committee recommended Miami establish a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee (DEI) to oversee diversity, equity and inclusion evaluations and replace CODI.

"I think it's going to be very difficult to start thinking about adding things unless we have ways of paying for things," Scott said. "The days of expansion without understanding the finances are gone."

Osborne is open to the diversity council carrying out the challenges presented in the strategic plan but is also willing to revise their mandate to better assess campus climate.

"I believe both the University Senate and student government(s) have standing committees charged with examining the general welfare of their respective constituencies," Osborne said. "I think they and other groups could play an important role, as climate, inclusivity and wellness is everyone's job, not just CODI's."

To further assess Miami's climate, Osborne will determine if there's a need for an ombudsman, an official appointed to investigate and address complaints made by the public, or if there will be someone in the Provost's office assigned to all diversity issues.

"The Provost is really working hard on working out the document [task force recommendations] that was given to him to work on as a blueprint," Scott said. "He's learning the university, but he's also learning and making an assessment of all aspects of 'where do we go next as an institution' not in terms of just diversity and inclusion but in terms of everything that is connected with this institution."