I write today to share an overview of actions underway to promote permanent and foundational initiatives that can build strong anti-bias and anti-racist structures at Trinity. While there is much to share, I want to begin by calling attention to the current moment that again makes visible why our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion is so fundamental to our mission.
As Sheryl Tynes, vice president for student life, reminded the campus last Thursday, March 18: “The hateful acts of violence that unfolded in and near Atlanta as well as events that have occurred locally here in San Antonio have directly impacted our Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander families, colleagues, and community.” The year of COVID has taught us all the experience of living with fear of a virus. Events such as those in Atlanta have awakened a new layer of fear among Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander communities of becoming the unexpected targets of violence. We must all realize that an event like this creates additional worry for our other community members who hold social identities that continue to make them targets of injustice.
I am grateful to Courtney Balderas-Jacob, director for student diversity and inclusion, for organizing the Community Gathering tomorrow, March 23, as announced by Dr. Tynes. EAST will soon announce upcoming events to help us understand the history of Asian-Americans in the United States, including the violence they have experienced.
Over the past year, we have sadly had too many social moments that have made visible the urgency of impactful work on diversity, equity, and inclusion. We are working to live into the 29 recommendation categories with more than 140 different proposed actions put forth by Trinity’s Diversity and Inclusion Task Force. Though our journey toward a more inclusive Trinity community is ongoing, we must plant roots. We must commit to change within ourselves and what we can influence around us with the goal of a lasting impact.
In Fall 2020, Trinity conducted interviews with chief diversity officers who are the inaugural appointee in their roles to gather lessons learned about establishing a new office and configuring a meaningful portfolio of responsibilities. In Spring 2021, we evaluated four different external review teams and have engaged a team from Academic Search to help us navigate the feasibility and structure of a new chief diversity office as part of the University’s central leadership. They are conducting a complete review of the administrative structure at Trinity, as called for in the Trinity Tomorrow Strategic Plan and carried out previously in Fall 2016. We expect to receive their findings in May, which will guide us along with our own budget realities.
Visioning for a DEI Center
This visioning is co-led by three sponsors: Dr. Deneese Jones, vice president for Academic Affairs; Mike Bacon, vice president for Alumni Relations and development; and Courtney Balderas, director for student diversity and inclusion. Their work will develop potential visions for a center or institute that brings together Trinity’s research and teaching on diversity, equity, and inclusion. This vision will guide efforts to fund the center through philanthropic support. This center can provide an engaging framework for students, faculty, staff, and alumni, and serve as a home for programs focused on understanding differences, promoting racial/ethnic healing, and examining historic restoration.
The working group is reviewing similar centers at peer and aspirant institutions, and will define the feasibility and impact of such a center on our campus. I look forward to their findings later this spring.
More concrete policies and procedures are being put in place, including a new Policy Prohibiting Harassment and Discrimination as well as the new Student Disability Accommodation Grievance Policy. Both of these policies are a direct result of Trinity’s commitment to the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force’s recommendations, as well as shared governance. In addition, the groundwork is being prepared for a systemic “equity audit” of all Trinity policies, many as they come up for review and renewal in the immediate future.
Campus Programming and Mentorship
Our Student Life division has launched dozens of new programs that tackle bias training and DEI education for new and current students. They are beginning to offer mentoring programs for underrepresented populations, new resources for disability inclusion and academic support, and have furthered the empowerment of the student diversity and inclusion office. These are only a few of the actions that Trinity is taking to make its campus more student-centric for ALL of its students.
University-wide professional development
Duane Coltharp, associate vice president for faculty recruitment and development, and Aspen Gonzalez, senior director of campus visit experience for Admissions and vice president of TSEC, have accepted the invitation to work collaboratively to establish meaningful approaches to professional development for faculty and staff. Some workshops have already occurred this year, but Dr. Coltharp and Ms. Gonzalez will propose a pathway to link meaningful professional development and personal DEI goals to the annual review process. Throughout the year, the Executive Leadership Team has engaged in weekly professional development work facilitated by a team from Standby Systems, Inc., and some of the vice presidents have replicated different workshops and conversations for teams across their divisions.
Finally, I’d like to remind everyone to participate in tomorrow’s Learning TUgether webinar entitled African Americans: Disparities in Educational Experience, hosted by Trinity University Offices of Alumni Relations and Special Events and moderated by Dr. Dee.
I hope you share my excitement as we begin to implement some key recommendations from our Diversity and Inclusion Task Force. The candidates for our recent campus-wide searches have all noted the excitement they have perceived during virtual visits. I feel a sense of momentum building, but in order to keep moving forward, I need your help. Transformational change takes all of us. Please volunteer for committees and task forces, and consider agreeing to help if you are asked. This is an undertaking that matters, and we all have something to contribute.
I will update you again as we progress. Thank you for all that you do for Trinity as we steward a future that values diversity, equity, and intentional inclusion.