How Fulbright College’s DEI Efforts Are Continuing in the Age of COVID-19
When the University of Arkansas campus went remote in March, Romona West, director of diversity and inclusion at the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, quickly pivoted to come up with new and unique ways to keep diversity, equity and inclusion efforts moving forward within the college.
“Diversity, equity and inclusion has been and remains a top priority for our college, and we knew from the beginning Romona would be a great person to lead us in our DEI efforts,” said Anna Zajicek, associate dean and professor of sociology.
Zajicek said the college’s Dean’s Office released a We Stand in Solidarity statement earlier this month, which West helped spearhead the creation of along with the college’s leadership and administrative team.
West joined Fulbright College last fall, as its director of diversity and inclusion, a new role created after Elecia Smith, the college’s former assistant dean of human resources, diversity and inclusion, left to help found and lead the U of A’s IDEALS Institute.
“Romona built on the college’s foundation of existing DEI efforts and has already accomplished so much not only in her short time with the college, but also in the midst of a global pandemic,” Zajicek said. “We are continuously grateful for all of her hard work and are elated to have her leadership as we constantly strive to create a more diverse, equitable and inclusive environment.”
Some of West’s initiatives were already taking place before the switch to a remote environment, so she has continued to utilize a variety of new tools and resources to engage with faculty, staff and students from afar.
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Plans
One major part of West’s initial goal when she joined Fulbright College in was to lead each of the college’s three schools and 16 departments in creating their own diversity, equity and inclusion plans.
By engaging each area actively in this process, West was able to help faculty and staff members from across the college determine the ways in which they were successfully implementing DEI-related goals, and how each area could improve and make needed changes.
“I’m so proud of our college DEI unit plans. Every unit is unique and hence each plan is unique. The college has done a great job building the foundation for a more diverse, equitable and inclusive college,” West said.
Additionally, West also helped create a plan for the college’s Dean’s Office, which helps guide the college’s leadership team in its commitment to DEI and serves as an action plan, too.
As of summer 2020, the plans are in phase two – which means all units have received their initial feedback on the plans from the Office for Diversity and Inclusion. Units are now updating their plans to reflect accomplishments and integrate some of the suggestions they’ve received.
“I’m reminded of what Dr. Yvette Murphy-Erby always says – this work is a journey and not a destination – we will all have to continue to do our part beyond what we have written on paper to ensure we truly have an inclusive culture,” West said.
West also developed the college’s new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council, which includes 14 members who serve as representatives identifying, recommending, supporting and advising the dean and the dean’s leadership team on diversity, equity, and inclusion issues and key strategic programs and initiatives.
The council meets twice per semester, and elected members serve a two-year term and are limited to serving two consecutive terms.
Partnering with the IDEALS Institute to Offer Continued Learning Opportunities
To offer opportunities for continued education on DEI topics, this spring West spearheaded the college’s partnership with the IDEALS Institute to host a workshop series focused on diversity and inclusion, which includes:
- “Facing Bias: Exposing Blind Spots/Engaging in Action:” A highly interactive training designed to foster awareness, clarity, reflection and discussion about the concepts of diversity, inclusion, equity, access, unconscious/implicit bias and blind spots, through participant engagement in large and small group discussions.
- “Microaggressions: Matching Your Values to Your Actions:” A highly interactive training designed to foster deep awareness, reflection and discussion on how to recognize and mitigate microaggressions in everyday interactions and at work, through participant engagement in large and small group discussions.
Both workshops are being hosted multiple times and have upcoming dates available for participation.
Since on-campus events are not currently possible, the workshops have been moved to a virtual setting and are currently being hosted online.
A list of upcoming workshops dates can be found on the Fulbright College diversity website and all members of the Fulbright College family are invited to sign up and attend.
Furthermore, other workshops that were hosted earlier this spring included:
- Two Cultural Competence workshops where participants were invited to complete the Intercultural Development Inventory assessment and a virtual workshop. Intercultural Competence is the capability to shift cultural perspectives and adapt or bridge behavior to cultural commonality and differences. As part of these exercises, participants received tangible suggestions from the presenter, Jacquelyn Dee Mosley, associate professor in Human Development and Family Sciences, on how to increase their intercultural competence.
- A Safe Zone Allies online workshop, presented by Brande Flack, director of retention programs for the Center for Multicultural and Diversity Education, and Mitchell Foster, HEI program coordinator, which provided participants with:
- An increased awareness of the issues that impact the LGBTQ+ community
- A foundational knowledge of terminology
- A deeper awareness, understanding and comfort with LGBTQ+ topics
- An understanding of advantages society affords non-LGBTQ+ people
- An opportunity to be an ally to LGBTQ+ community on campus
Using Social Media to Share the Message
“One challenge I felt most people might be presented with during this time is the uncertainty of how to still be inclusive from home,” West said. “We wanted to use the unique opportunity we all found ourselves in because of COVID-19 to demonstrate just how many ways there are to be inclusive, and that inclusivity is indeed even more important now than ever.”
“Everyone should still have a seat at the table and their voice should still be heard, even if that ‘table’ is in a virtual space,” West said.
West worked with the Fulbright College external relations team to develop a series of social media posts that were shared weekly on the college’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. West also worked with the team to create a Fulbright College-specific diversity, equity and inclusion hashtag, #fulbright4inclusion, to accompany the posts so they are easily identifiable.
The posts covered a variety of topics and were presented in various formats, such as a video checking in on everyone and encouraging people to check on others, too.
Other posts included a message to students who graduated in the spring, an Earth Day activity with a diversity spin, and a reminder of the importance of being patient and kind during these ever-changing times.
Next up on the social media front for West will be creating dedicated Fulbright College DEI social media accounts, which will launch this fall.
Fulbright College Launches New ‘DEI Hour’ Conversation Series
One of West’s most recent DEI initiatives is the newly launched Fulbright College DEI Hour, which consists of open weekly conversations for anyone connected to Fulbright College to join and participate in.
The goal for the virtual conversation meetings is to provide a platform to share experiences, ensue awareness and education, allow voices to be heard and instill a sense of belonging.
“I feel a major part of our job as a college is to ensure we are consistently providing a safe space where conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion can be had,” West said. “We want everyone to know that we are still here to be a listening ear for their concerns, and that we are still continuously providing actionable items to help us all create a more diverse and inclusive environment for everyone.”
Every Wednesday, West will be hosting an hour-long meeting with a new topic each week. For the first portion of each meeting, a different topic of the week will be discussed, followed by time set aside for comments and open discussion.
To join the conversation, visit the Fulbright College diversity website.
What Can You Do?
- One of the most important aspects of effective diversity, equity and inclusion efforts is to provide people with resources and actionable items so that they can not only understand why making a difference is important but are equipped to start helping to make that difference.
Here are a few resources West would recommend for anyone looking to further their knowledge on this area:
- Recognizing Microaggressions and the Messages They Send
- “White Privilege: Unpacking The Invisible Knapsack,” by Peggy McIntosh
- Anti-Racist Resource Guide
- Safe Zone Project
- Helpful Diversity and Inclusion Resource Links from the University of Arkansas campus:
She also encourages those looking to get more involved to consider participating in upcoming DEI events:
- Friday, June 19: U of A’s (Virtual) Juneteenth Celebration
- Saturday, August 15: 16th Annual Northwest Arkansas Pride Parade
West also invites feedback and suggestions and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.