Taylor Corley, Campus Carrier editor-in-chief

Annie Deitz, Campus Carrier managing editor

In November of 2020, President Steve Briggs sent an email to Berry community members describing the college’s goals and reinvigorated mission of “strengthening the culture of belonging.” In the Nov. 2, 2020 email, the President’s Office outlined six main areas in which the college would work to develop this culture, including programming, curriculum, personal and professional development, representation for faculty and staff of color, representation for students of color and freedom of expression and unacceptable speech policies.

On Feb. 15, the President’s Office further elaborated on the plans the college had for implementing this change. As explained in the email, the college established a President’s Advisory Committee, under which the six aforementioned sub-committees related to the areas of cultural development would reside. 

The President’s Advisory Committee consists of four faculty members, four staff members and four students who were selected to help oversee the process of fostering a culture of belonging on campus. They meet with Briggs in order to ensure that the sub-committees that work more directly towards specific issues are working towards a common goal. 

“We set up the six committees and then we set up the advisory committee to look and feedback and get reports about what are the committees’ goals and how each committee works together,” Briggs said. “The six committees are helping me look over the process that’s pretty complex, to make sure that we’re making good progress.” 

After several weeks, these sub-committees are in the initial stages of developing plans, programs and timelines for the remainder of the semester and the foreseeable future. Many are in the process of beginning to provide proposal regarding DEI matters in their topical area to the overarching President’s Advisory Committee. Vice Presidents from each area meet with Briggs regularly.

“What we asked was for each committee to come up with one or two things that could happen this semester, because that would mean that we’re getting somewhere,” Briggs said. “Between six and ten things done this semester, and then what would be a good set of things to try to accomplish next year.”

Programming

Under the Programming Sub-Committee, faculty, staff and students work to develop and include education and discussions of DEI matters into existing facets of Berry life. As Dean of Students Lindsey Taylor, sub-committee chair, explained, the group focuses on areas involving early student development like BCC, First Year Experience, SOAR and Viking Venture, as well as more general areas like Residence Life, lecture series, and other student activities. 

“It was really given the mandate of working to develop and promote intentional conversations on campus, through the programs we have already,” Taylor said.

According to Taylor, members of the Programming Sub-Committee are separated into smaller groups, in which they each focus on a particular aspect of campus life and programming. These smaller groups come up with ideas on how those involved in that area of campus programming can incorporate more issues related to DEI into their general activities, the present those for approval to the President’s Advisory Committee, then sending them to the relevant individuals. 

“In them [the subgroups] we work on creating a roadmap to address things in each of these areas, and then we’ll create some strategies for implementation,” Taylor said. “Working together as a whole, and with feedback from the Presidential Advisory Committee, we’ll be able to continue to refine our ideas.”

Taylor, for example, is in a group focused on improving and adding new programming to Residence Life. She explained that the goal of their group is to provide ideas to Residence Life by this summer, so Residence Life can implement the ideas throughout the summer for next fall. All groups have different timelines and goals.

Last week, the Programming Sub-Committee implemented their first initiative by announcing that the Krannert Game room is going to be converted into an Intercultural Center. As Taylor explained, the sub-committee wanted to create a physical space on campus dedicated to students of color and DEI programming.

“The priority within that [the Intercultural Center] will be given to student groups and organizations within that diversity and inclusion sphere, but outside of that any groups can use it, with the expectation that they work to factor in ideas about DEI into their programming,” Taylor said.

The Programming Sub-Committee will meet again today to discuss plans and strategies to be presented to the President’s Advisory Commitee. 

Curriculum

The Curriculum Sub-Committee is tasked with examining Berry’s curriculum to ensure that students are able to learn about and from DEI related topics, scholars and fields. 

As chair Sarah Allred, associate professor of sociology, explained, the sub-committee’s charge is fourfold, and involves examining initiatives at peer and aspirant institutions, reviewing Berry’s curriculum, developing a report with concrete changes that can be made and then working to see if this work is being done by any other existing committee. According to Allred, the work being done on the Curriculum Sub-Committee is unique across campus, so that fourth point has been completed already.

The Curriculum Sub-Committee is slightly different from the others, in that it previously existed within the Faculty Assembly. As Allred explained, when the President’s Advisory Committee was created, the working group falling under the Faculty Assembly was moved to establish one of these sub-committees. In Allred’s opinion, this exemplifies how the development of college wide curriculum is always developing, regardless of whether or not it’s the result of larger institutional changes, like in this case. 

“What students are looking at now might seem new, but is really a part of an ongoing process,” Allred said. “DEI has never been absent from this conversation, but we’re really bringing it forward into the limelight in this instance.”

The sub-committee is currently in the process of reviewing Berry’s curriculum, as well as continuing to look at peer and aspirant schools for comparison. According to Allred, there is a large inconsistency with what Berry’s curriculum actually is and the way it is represented on the Berry website and in course catalogs. An immediate goal for the sub-committee is figuring out a way to rectify this, to ensure that currently existing courses and opportunities related to DEI are described and expressed correctly.

“One important thing is seeing what we’re doing, but it is more than just about seeing what we’re doing, it’s about seeing how that manifests,” Allred said. “It’s looking through course catalogs and seeing that there are things about the course descriptions that are spot on, but in regards to DEI, what we learned very quickly is that there is often more in the curriculum in the course about DEI than is represented in the course description. One recommendation will be for us to pull forward and make more visible what is already here.”

As Allred further explained, another more long term and substantial goal is advancing the development of curricular and comparative study programs. The Women and Gender Studies department is the only program at Berry that fits into this category right now. Allred believes that creating more similar departments, through both bundling courses and creating new ones, Berry can offer students a more diverse academic life. 

“We feel like we have the individual courses here to bundle together as a starting point for a new program, but it’s likely that we’ll recommend one or more new curricular areas of study,” Allred said.

The committee has yet to codify advice related to fixing the website description discrepancy or comparative course study, but plans to do so soon to provide guidance for the President’s Advisory Committee.

Personal and Professional Development

The Personal and Professional Development Sub-Committee focuses on DEI related initiatives in the realm of career development and student work. As explained by co-chair Marc Hunsaker, dean for personal and professional development, the committee hopes to accomplish this by striving towards three goals, expand professional training opportunities for work supervisors regarding mentorship and assistance to people from diverse backgrounds, to expand training modules for students on how to work successfully in diverse settings and to create professional mentorship programs for students of color. 

“The goal of our committee is to develop an increased emphasis on the ability to work professional with people who are differente in skills, experience, identity and belief in today’s pluralistic work environment,” Hunsaker said.

According to other co-chair Meredith Johnson, assistant dean of students, this specific committee works to highlight an area of student life that is a major part of all Berry students’ lives.

“If we only address this in the classroom, or in the residence halls, or just in looking at our policies, that wouldn’t be sufficient,” Johnson said. “Especially at Berry, our LifeWorks program is such a prominent part of the student experience.”

Currently, the sub-committee is primarily focused on addressing their first goal of expanding training on DEI related matters for work supervisors on campus. As explained by senior Trinity Hutchins, a student on the sub-committee, the group has been analyzing more than 20 different training programs to determine which would be most beneficial and effective for the Berry community.

“They’ve set up Microsoft Teams, and so starting a couple of weeks ago everybody put on their different criteria for various training programs, to help see what we were going to do,” Hutchins said. “Essentially, we came up with what we wanted to evaluate these programs on, criteria that is important to us that we want to keep in mind when selecting a program. From here, people have been putting ideas for training programs using examples from across the nation, like Delta Airlines, or Cornelll. From here we’ll analyze that.” 

One of the largest concerns throughout discussion, according to Johnson, is ensuring all voices are heard equally throughout the group. As she explained, power dynamics will always exist in a group like this, especially as students are working with administrators, faculty and staff members. In order to ensure that everyone feels comfortable to share ideas, the sub-committee allows for the anonymous submission of suggestions, like ideas related to the training modules. 

“We’ve been facilitating dialogue, and have used multiple ways of listening to information and perspective from our committee members,” Johnson said. “Initially, that’s using an anonymous survey for ranking and scoring priorities and values then opening up broader discussion with that basis of participation. I’ve been really pleased with the discussions we have had in our group and the efforts that have been made to make sure that all voices are heard and being cognizant of the racial makeup and those power dynamics, both on committees and across campus.”

The sub-committee is drafting a proposal related to the modules for work supervisors, and hopes to submit this to the President’s Advisory Committee in the next month.

Representation for Faculty and Staff of Color

The Sub-Committee on Representation of Faculty and Staff of Color was created to address improving recruitment, hiring and Human Resources policies for faculty and staff. According to senior Orlin Gomez-Aceituno, a student on the sub-committee, the sub-committee is looking to develop more inclusive policies related to these topics.

“How do we aim for policies that are inclusive to where we are able to bring more staff and faculty of color on campus?” Gomez-Aceituno said. “Essentially that just means making sure that the policies are not biased or set up in a way that excludes marginalized faculty and staff.”

As Provost Mary Boyd, who helps oversee the committee, further explains, the sub-committee is currently specifically creating an outline that can be utilized by hiring committees to implement inclusive hiring and recruiting policies. This will be provided to search party members, as well as anyone involved in a candidate search process for faculty and staff hires. 

“This is ensuring that we are using equitable hiring practices to ensure that we have broad, diverse and well-qualified candidate pools,” Boyd said. “That means crafting a compelling job description, ensuring that we reach out to everyone in our network, and then going through a set of steps that are known to have equity throughout their processes.”

Boyd explained that often, despite the best intentions of those involved in a search process, it can be easy to stick to conducting a search process in the same way that it always has been done. In her experience in her chemistry background, for example, job postings are often only made in a weekly trade magazine, “Chemical and Engineering News.” However, through critical thought, Boyd explained, one can recognize that is not the most inclusive and productive way to reach potential applicants. This sub-committee hopes to develop this kind of thinking at all levels. 

“It’s making people aware that we all have our own internal and implicit biases, so that we’re not always doing a search the way that we’ve always done it,” Boyd said. “To have an inclusive search requires us to openly discuss where we post job openings, who we reach out to, how to review our applications. It’s changing the way we always have done searches.”

Boyd explained that the committee is aiming to, and is on track to, complete the outline of hiring guidelines by the end of the semester. The sub-committee also hopes to develop a set of resources and training by the end of the summer, if not sooner. In general, hiring searches for faculty and staff at Berry begin in August and September and last the duration of the year, so these projects will go into effect for the 2021-2022 school year. 

Representation of Students of Color

The Representation for Students of Color committee focuses on all aspects of Berry’s student recruitment and retention rate, looking more closely at how they can reach more students of color and make the college decision making process more accessible and accommodating to all prospective students. Andrew Bressette, vice president for enrollment management , and Nancy Rewis, vice president of marketing and communications, serve as co-chairs of the committee with a mix of other faculty from the marketing and enrollment offices as well as students. 

“The way this committee is set up is we’re looking at top of the funnel marketing,” Rewis said. That could be marketing materials, counselors, visits to campus, so really understanding what was your college search process like and what were some key indicators that really made you decide to attend Berry.” 

According to Rewis, the committee itself is divided into two working parts: one group looks at data and the other works on organizing focus groups. Each group meets every two weeks and the full Representation for Students of Color committee meets every four weeks. Focus groups is one of the committees main forms of collecting data at this time. 

“We’re going to be hosting a focus group with a broad array of students,” Bressette said. “We’re going to begin with students of color to learn about their experiences and to hear are there things that we could have done that would have made their experience better or how we could have helped them in their decision making process.” 

The committee is also focusing on improving recruitment and first year experience overall.

“The work that we can do this spring is a little bit limited, so the committee will continue doing work next year and probably for several years,” Bressette said. “So I think for this spring it’s really hosting the focus groups to understand if there are some tactics or strategies that we can deploy in the net recruitment cycle, looking at the research and data around where our students of colors are coming from, and look at our retention of first year students.”

Working on this committee is something that is important to Bressette because he feels that changes they are working to make will improve student’s experience at Berry and in life. 

“For me, I take very seriously the notion that we want the educational experience of our students to prepare them for life beyond Berry and I don’t think our students can have a good experience that prepares them if a population of Berry students is not representative of what you will find.” 

Policies Related to Speech and Behavior

The final Sub-Committee on Policies Related to Speech and Behavior works to address the distinction between freedom of expression and creating a comfortable community environment. As Boyd, who helps supervise this committee, explained, the sub-committee is writing a specific freedom of speech policy to be implemented for campus. They plan to have the policy within the next few weeks.

“We’re really hoping that within the next week or so, we will be able to have a draft policy and take it out for wider comment,” Boyd said. “We understand that this is an iterative process, and the committee of students and faculty and staff will be able to craft a proposed document that we think reflects that, that has the consensus of those in the committee, knowing that when we bring it out, some people will see opportunities to strengthen it.”

Boyd explained that the sub-committee hopes to take the policy to recieve feedback in a variety of places, including but not limited to the President’s Advisory Committee, SGA, Faculty Assembly and Staff Advisory.

One major concern, Boyd explained, that the sub-committee has upheld, is figuring out a way to balance the need for freedom of expression with creating a healthy and safe environment on campus.

“We’re finding a way to hold together our value for community expression along with our value and commitment for community,” Boyd said. “We’re trying to get those two things to come together in a way that is appropriate for Berry College.”

As President Steve Briggs further explained that this new speech policy is going to address speech related to race, sexual orientation, and other topics related to marginalized communities. Berry does not currently have a written policy that specifically deals with these issues, and therefore does not have a way to go about handling it from a policy perspective. 

“When we say you can’t say things that denigrate or are dismissive of other people because of race or gender or religion or sexual orientation, those sorts of things, the Speech committee is looking at how do we say that and what does that mean from a policy point of view, how does it enter into the student code of conduct and the faculty/staff handbook and how do you report it,” Briggs said.

Boyd hopes this policy will be finalized and ready to put into effect by the end of this semester, and explained that the committee is currently on track to do this. 

Overall, the President’s Advisory Committees and the related subcommittees are focusing on implementing DEI related initiatives into various aspects of Berry’s community. As Briggs explained, some of these initiatives might take time to actualize and have demonstrable effects on the college community.

“If we really want to get these done, it takes time to make real changes, if you’re trying to change the culture of a place it takes time,” Briggs said. “You don’t just snap and it happens, you work at it over a course of weeks and years. So these committees are about seeing what are the kinds of conversations and what are the kinds of changes we can make now that will lead to additional, sustaining conversations next year.” 

Boyd further explains that while this process may take time, the administration is greatful for the work students have put in to advocating for change and bringing light to these issues.

“This is really important work,” Boyd said. “I am enormously happy that it engages so many people across campus, on the committees, but also on the larger opportunity to provide input on the work of the committees. I want to especially let students know how appreciative we are of their advocacy for this work, that it’s really important work.”

Taylor encourages all community members to learn more about and get more involved.

“I’d encourage people who aren’t necessarily in the committees to be involved,” Taylor said. “Read the update emails, ask questions. These changes and initiatives are going to impact all of us, so participate. We all have a responsibility to do this work.”

According to Briggs, the committee work has had to balance the hopes and ideas of students with the work and expertise of professional administrators. Due to this, Briggs encourages students to allow the administration to balance students’ “lived experiences” with the academic and professional knowledge of faculty and staff members on the committee.

“I know that there has been some concern on certain issues, but on any of these committees you’ve got people that have academic expertise or other expertise, and students who have perspectives and, you often hear the phrase “lived experiences,” that are relevant to the conversation,’ Briggs said. “So for those to have equal opportunity to contribute to the conversation is important but not easy.”

For more information on ongoing DEI efforts within the Berry administration, as well as opinions and experiences of students on these committees, look for the second article in the Carrier’s two part series on the President’s Advisory Committees and associated Sub-Committees, published next Thursday.

Posted by Campus Carrier

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