Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion bolsters its mission

By Robert C. Jones Jr.

Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion bolsters its mission

By Robert C. Jones Jr.
Formed five years ago at the recommendation of students, the committee has established new subgroups to address various concerns related to access.

Five years after it was established as part of an exhaustive list of recommendations made by the Presidential Task Force for Addressing Black Students’ Concerns, the University of Miami’s Standing Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion has been reinvigorated with new collaborations, additional goals, and newly created subcommittees addressing a range of topics.

“While our mission is the same—improving access and representation, removing barriers, educating the campus community, and achieving cross-campus collaborations—we’ve renewed our efforts and instituted certain measures designed to make us more effective in achieving our goals,” said Renee Callan, executive director of student life, who co-chairs the committee along with Marvin Dawkins, professor of sociology in the College of Arts and Sciences. 

“The committee is especially important at this time, given a heightened focus on social and racial injustices in the larger society and the need to take corrective action in rectifying past injustices faced by oppressed minorities, especially African Americans, in all sectors of society, including higher education,” Dawkins said. “The committee will take a close look at existing policies, decisions, and practices at the University of Miami that affect students, faculty, staff, and administrators, as well as examine such operations as how the University selects vendors in doing business. The standing committee will make recommendations for improvement that reflect the University’s high regard for diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

Student, faculty, and staff representatives from across the University are continuing to serve on the committee, which recently had its first meeting of the academic year with President Julio Frenk; Jeffrey Duerk, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost; Pat Whitely, vice president for student affairs; and Donald Spivey, distinguished professor of history and special advisor to Frenk on racial justice. 

When the body was formed in 2015, it established a series of working groups aimed at determining how and to what extent underrepresented students were using existing resources at the institution. In addition, each of the working groups focused on a specific student population. “Some of those working groups will remain active,” Callan said. “Our first priority is to assess what is happening across the University. It is important that we have a comprehensive understanding of diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives that are currently happening across the enterprise.” 

New recommendations, made by students amid this year’s nationwide call for racial justice sparked by the George Floyd killing, will augment existing committee goals and are being phased in, according to Callan. Additionally, the committee will support and work toward accomplishing the racial justice goals and objectives outlined by Frenk in a 15-point plan he announced over the summer. This includes supporting efforts to create a Miami Center for Global Black Studies—which will address issues of race, gender, sexuality, and socioeconomic standing, and championing the recently created University of Miami Racial Justice Grant, which provides opportunities for students who are interested in participating in community engagement projects. 

Establishing more collaborations is also a new goal of the committee. As such, Callan and Dawkins have been meeting regularly with Spivey. “So much of what Don is working on is related to many of the initiatives we’re looking at,” Callan said. “So that alliance is important.” 

A series of subcommittees addressing different topics will have the biggest impact, Callan said. Those subcommittees will analyze University data on access; examine recruiting and educational opportunities for underrepresented populations in South Florida communities; explore further collaborations with a variety of University entities; assess campus climate; take a look at the recruiting, hiring, and retaining of more faculty members of color; and most importantly make recommendations to University leadership. 

“The University of Miami is recognized nationally for its highly diverse population in terms of the composition of its student body along such lines as race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, physical disabilities, religious beliefs, and other factors,” Dawkins said. “However, the composition of faculty and staff is not as diverse. We have lagged behind peer institutions in the number of Black faculty across all UM campuses and at all levels of faculty rank. However, I am excited by the high priority that has been assigned to initiatives presently underway to increase faculty diversity. The Standing Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion will work with units throughout the University to create positive changes to further the diversification of faculty, staff, and graduate students while maintaining our highly diverse undergraduate student population.” 

Callan explained that the committee will address diversity in a broad sense, focusing on different student populations and not just on the needs of one particular group. “We want to provide the best experience that we can for our students so that when they leave this institution, they are adequately prepared to live in a global society,” she said.

The committee will examine issues beyond race, taking a hard look at socioeconomic status in a move to ensure that economic measures “are not a determining factor in how students are experiencing our campuses,” Callan said. “Given everything that is happening in our communities and, indeed, in our world, we really are at an inflection point where we have the chance to take stock in what kind of campus community we are creating and how we want to engage not just with our students but with the entire campus community and our South Florida neighbors.”