Increasing diversity or reducing the effects of racism: Are they one in the same?

The following is the first of an ongoing series of columns by Dr. Quincy Byrdsong, vice president for academic planning and strategic initiatives.

Diversity is the state of being different, the concepts of variety and multiformity, so a discussion about diversity cannot focus solely on race. At Augusta University, we recognize there are many ways in which our faculty, staff, and students are different, and we not only want to respect those differences but also celebrate them.  For instance, the large military population of Augusta may want to enter the workforce or pursue educational opportunities. We have to be sure their military training is welcomed and honored as valued contributions to the academy. Also, as many of these individuals may be older than those traditionally in these roles, it is vital to make sure these people are not discriminated against. There is also a very active and engaged LGBTQ community which must also be encouraged to pursue these opportunities as sexual identity minorities in an inclusive, supportive, and safe environment. We have individuals from nations outside the US who need support to adjust to cultural differences which could potentially hinder their ability to pursue their passions. As a primarily Christian population, we must acknowledge and encourage the practice of other religions as the foundation of many families in our region. Individuals with physical and/or mental limitations must be afforded accommodations in order for these limitations not to turn into barriers to their pursuits of success. In short, diversity describes the variety of our populations. However, our commitment is not to the variety but to ensuring a safe, supportive, equitable, and inclusive environment for all those under the sphere of our influence, regardless of the ways in which this variety is expressed.

On the other hand, there is the concept of racism which should be not be confused with the concept of diversity. Race is simply one of many dimensions of diversity and encompasses the idea that all members of a particular race share similar characteristics specific to their race and these characteristics determine whether one race is superior to another. Racism supposes that there is a core race which measures and defines the importance of all others. In the United States, the core race is White or Caucasian.  To further elucidate, institutional racism describes societal or, in our case, institutional patterns which have a net effect of imposing oppressive or otherwise negative conditions against identifiable groups on the basis of race. In order to address institutional racism, we cannot simply attempt to transform at the personal level but rather transform at the institutional level. The following are several ways Augusta University has implemented processes to address and prevent institutional racism.

  • Full infusion of equity and inclusion efforts into the Division of Academic Planning and Strategic Initiatives: The VP for Academic Planning and Strategic Initiatives serves as the institution’s Chief Diversity Officer. This model provides the most over-arching integration of equity and inclusion into the development of all new academic programs and initiatives as well as the evaluation of existing academic programs and initiatives.
  • Comprehensive review of policies, institutional statements, and strategic plans: Led by the Chief Diversity Officer and in partnership with senior leadership, a comprehensive review of all policies, institutional statements, and strategic plans is currently underway.  An analysis of these documents and alignment with both best practices and trend data will be submitted to the senior leadership in January for review and proposed changes will be disseminated through the shared governance structure of faculty, students, and staff.  The Offices of Student Life and Equal Employment will be heavily involved with this analysis.
  • Climate surveys:  Augusta University is developing a series of climate surveys to assess the Augusta University community’s perception of the institutional climate toward equity and inclusion. These surveys will be reviewed by an Academic Diversity Committee which is has been formed by the Chief Diversity Officer to have institution-wide input from all the stakeholders including faculty, staff, and students. The first survey was disseminated in October to students.
  • Inclusive excellence in recruitment:  In conjunction with the VP for Human Resources and the VP for Enrollment and Student Affairs, Augusta University is augmenting its recruitment efforts to be more inclusive of the diverse and talented faculty, staff, and students which will advance Augusta University to the next level. Recognizing that the national and international pools of administrators, faculty, staff, and students are very diverse, we will implement strategies to include as many diverse perspectives as possible including targeted marketing, expanding our formal networks and partnerships, and setting high expectations for ourselves and the talent we can attract.
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Dr. Quincy J. Byrdsong
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Written by Dr. Quincy J. Byrdsong

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