Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion much more than catchwords at the Mississippi University for Women. Since the spring of 2020, The W has moved to formalize its efforts in the areas of diversity, equity and inclusion. The creation of the Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Council has been an integral component of The W’s commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion on campus through increasing self-awareness and facilitating intercultural competence.
“It is important that the DEI Council participates in our shared governance model by being a part of our policy review and approval process,” President Nora Miller said. “The council also selects the Diversity Educator of the Year and the Impact award recipients.”
The council includes the University Chief Diversity Officer (chair) and representatives from the following colleges, departments and offices: Admissions, Alumni and Development, Athletics and Campus Recreation, College of Arts & Sciences, School of Education, College of Business and Professional Studies, College of Nursing and Health Sciences, Council of Chairs, Faculty Senate, Finance and Administration, Human Resources, Information Technology Services and Institutional Research, Library, Staff Council, Student Affairs, Student Government Association, a student to represent student organizations as nominated by Student Affairs, Student Success Center and University Police Department. It has been active since August 2020 and usually meets once a month.
The Council advises and makes proposals, as appropriate, to President Miller on matters/issues/initiatives that will enhance student and employee equality and that promote diversity and inclusion on campus. One of the first events/activities the DEI Council hosted was the interactive public art project known as “UNITY” in November 2020. Based on the work of Nancy Belmont, the project was selected for its potential to draw attention, encourage engagement and give representation to every member of The W community. Thirty-two posts stood in a circle near Bryan Green Gazebo, all but one representing a different social role or identity, personal trait or worldview. The 32nd pole was a blank slate, and participants were able to write in an additional identifier they felt was important to their sense of self. Each person selected the poles that represented the various aspects of their identity and strung blue yarn from one to the other, creating a crisscrossing pattern. Highlighting the multiple identities that intersect to make each person unique, the project demonstrated how each layer of an individual's identity connects them to a different subset of the community in such a way that all of the subsets are ultimately connected to form a larger whole.
“This activity was engaging and a thoughtful way to get students, faculty, staff and alumni together and to have them talk,” said Anika Mitchell Perkins, executive director of University Relations and co-diversity officer.
To coincide with the introduction of a new Mississippi state flag, the DEI Council hosted a virtual, moderated panel in where participants contextualized the importance of the new flag for campus and for the state. Perkins said the program received a lot of positive feedback and individuals expressed hopes for similar programming in the future.
Members of the council also participated in a two-part retreat on anti-racism and microaggressions. The sessions were facilitated by staff of the library. Dr. Cathryn Strout, who is an author also spoke about: “Commit a Microaggression at Work? Here’s How to Rebound." Karen Clay, who is general counsel for The W and co-diversity officer, added the DEI Council also has done meaningful work through its Deliberate Discussions. The event divided council members into groups of three and allowed them to have authentic discussions about equity, race, microaggressions and other issues.
“The groups would change every month or two,” Clay said. “We thought it was important for us to have these ‘real’ conversations amongst the group and to get to know each other and build trust. We hope we can have similar discussions campus-wide.”
Individual DEI sub-committees will be formed to address key issues and to lead key initiatives concerning the following stakeholders: community, faculty, staff and students. These subcommittees will be chaired by members of the council and may consist of members of the council or individuals approved by the council.
In Focus: The W's Strategic Priorities
The University's Priorities:
Pillars of Purpose: Priorities 2021
In Fall 2021, a task force of 25 people from throughout the campus community revised the university's strategic plan, guiding The W for the next five years.
A United Liberal Arts Voice
University Challenges Donors to 'Be The Light'
A Summer of Enrichment
Building a Bridge
Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion:
DEI Council Committed to Change
Mise en Place
The full plan can be found at www.muw.edu/priorities.