WKU develops new diversity, equity plan

Rebekah Alvey

WKU’s newest diversity, equity and inclusion plan is awaiting approval from the Board of Regents, according to university administrators.

The diversity plan was crafted by Lynne Holland, chief diversity officer, with assistance from various stakeholders such as students, faculty and staff at WKU. Holland said each university diversity plan lasts five years and is based off initiatives set by the state. Holland began working on the plan over a year ago with input from across WKU.

Holland said the process of getting the plan approved involves writing the plan, approval from the Equal Opportunity Committee, a co-committee on the Council of Postsecondary Education, approval from stakeholders such as the Provost and finally, approval by the Board of Regents.

In comparison to the previous plan, Holland said the new plan is similar but is more focused on opportunity, success of students, faculty and staff and impact. She said the plan attempts to create “cultural competency” at WKU and increases persistence of minority students and allows them to see themselves as scholars.

“You change the environment, you change the behavior,” Holland said.

Cultural competency takes a large role in both WKU’s and the state’s initiatives for diversity. Holland described it as using tools and strategies to engage with people unlike ourselves.

“Can we suspend our judgement and figure out a way to work carefully and closely, with kindness and compassion,” Holland said of cultural competency.

Martha Sales, executive director of TRiO Programs and the Intercultural Student Engagement Center, said this year’s plan is “qualitative results rather than quantitative.” In the past, Sales said the plan addressed meeting required numbers. This year, Sales said the plan has more “substance” with more effort toward ensuring success.

“Access without success is nothing,” Sales said, quoting remarks made by President Timothy Caboni during his convocation speech.

The old plan provided diversity student access to WKU, while Sales said the new plan provides success.

Caboni also addressed issues of race and diversity in his convocation speech following the events in Charlottesville, Virginia and said “Bigotry and hate have no place on this campus,” according to a previous Herald article.

Sales said she appreciated the remarks as well as her colleagues’ response. She said she loved the transparency, boldness and sincerity of Caboni’s remarks.

“Sometimes it just needs to be said,” Sales said. “We assume that you understand that racism isn’t tolerated but why not just say it?”

The Intercultural Student Engagement Center and the new ISEC Academy are programs involved with the new diversity plan and serve as examples of promoting student success. Sales said ISEC turns no one away and works to recruit, retain and graduate all students.

In addition to the ISEC Academy, there are several other strategic initiatives and programs. Holland said one addition she is particularly proud of is the creation of a Student Equity Council.

Throughout the formation of the new plan, Holland said student input was important. The new council will include 25 students, some who had input for the new plan, who will provide Holland with information about diversity, equity and inclusion from their perspective.

Other initiatives include targeted recruitment of low income and first generation students and pre-enrollment orientation. Holland said these programs allow students with little to no knowledge about college to understand the language and dynamics before arriving on campus.

In the plan, Holland said there is an emphasis on high impact on students through faculty and staff relationships. She explained the implementation of “campus connectors,” who are peers, faculty and staff that repeatedly connect with students before and during their four years to ensure success.

Through the new plan, Holland said she is excited to position WKU as a university that “warmly welcomes students.” She referred to former WKU President Henry Hardin Cherry’s philosophy of being a “light on the hill,” and said the university should be a place for new ideas and a true beacon.

“We should truly be a beacon of a place that creates those environments where all folk can be successful,” Holland said. “Can we stretch and become that place, that shining example on the hill where folks can learn.”

The plan will go before the Board of Regents for committee approval at their Sept. 22 committee meetings, according to Holland.

Reporter Rebekah Alvey can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected].