Update: Four Taskforces on Diversity and Inclusion

October 3, 2016

Dear Campus Community:

As a Catholic community, we seek to justly represent the breadth and diversity of God’s creation, and endeavor to foster a Culture of Care where empathy, compassion, love, and justice guide our actions toward each other. We know that learning happens most effectively in diverse environments; fostering more diversity only works for everybody if we undertake the transformative process of reflection, discernment, and renewal of our mission-level commitment to create a diverse and inclusive community.

Over the past year there have been several tragic events across our nation that remind us that our country has much work to do to advance peace and justice for all.  We find our nation at a pivotal moment regarding race and the intersection of identities that experience ongoing political, economic, and cultural marginalization. The tragic death of Alfred Olango last week in nearby El Cajon brings a local urgency to yearning across the country for peace and justice.  As a university community we must embrace our role as a place where difficult national dialogs can take place and set an example of how to engage in civil and productive conversations that lead to positive change.

On our own campus, students practice Changemaking by raising their voices inside and outside of class to advance social justice in our communities and on our campus. Last week we had an important dialog on campus about these issues and how we as a community can embrace and fully live out the values expressed in our mission. Several members of our community had the opportunity to participate in those conversations, and it is clear that we need to continue to encourage this dialog through both curricular and co-curricular activities in the future.

You may recall that last February I created four university task forces and asked each to recommend ways we could accelerate our efforts in building and fostering a diverse community and inclusive organization.

The university task forces were organized to specifically look at four areas:
• Faculty and staff recruitment and hiring practices
• Faculty and staff orientation and ongoing development
• The first-year student experience
• The second-year student experience

Each task force was responsible for assessing our current data and processes, identifying best practices, and creating priority action steps for implementation.

Three of the four task forces recommended developing a diversity statement, common concepts and institutional outcomes that can be used to align trainings, experiences and goals for students, faculty and staff. These have been drafted drawing from existing outcomes and definitions from the new core curriculum, co-curricular learning outcomes, Strategic Plan for Diversity & Inclusive Excellence and the Envisioning 2024 Strategic Plan. Presentations about this diversity, inclusion, and social justice (DISJ) framework and new trainings and experiences will begin this fall and will be presented to the Board of Trustees in the spring.

There are several other recommendations that were made that we can act on immediately as a university community. For example, one task force prepared multiple enhancements to the faculty toolkit for recruitment and retention and staff hiring strategies.  These recommendations will be reviewed by the Deans this fall. Another task force outlined a plan to deepen DISJ training and pathway programs in employee orientations and development and to align opportunities for learning and community participation for employees.  This new approach will begin this fall.

The work of the two task forces focused on the student experience have been aligned to create more coherence over the first two years and to develop strategic action that infuses DISJ throughout the undergraduate experience.  The task forces recommended establishing a student group in the Center for Inclusion and Diversity that explores ways to improve student engagement in DISJ issues and contribute to institutional efforts on campus and in our community. This group will also collaborate with the Changemaker HUB to establish the 2017-18 Changemaker Challenge focusing on DISJ.

Other student-focused DISJ initiatives outlined by these two task forces include enhanced curricular and co-curricular DISJ targeted experiences; DISJ concepts and materials for Torero Countdown/OLÉ Weekend; social justice summer and intersession immersion experiences; stronger DISJ integration into our living/learning communities, Greek Life and student clubs/organizations; strategies to bring more diversity to the Honors Program; and strengthen Student Support Services. Many of these initiatives have already begun.

Now that the reports from the task forces are complete, the Executive Council and the Strategic Planning Steering Committee are reviewing them to ensure alignment with our new Envisioning 2024 Strategic Plan.  The administration will take the recommendations and create action steps for implementation. Like all of our institutional DISJ work, outcomes and measures for all action items will be added to the inventory created by the Strategic Plan for Diversity & Inclusive Excellence and assessed to support Envisioning 2024.

Although we have much work ahead, I wish to remind everyone that we are making progress. Last week the USD Board of Trustees approved the new core undergraduate curriculum developed by the faculty which places DISJ at the center of the undergraduate experience. This fall we welcomed one of the most diverse first-year classes in our history.  Likewise, this past year was a good year for faculty recruitment. The university recruited 26 highly talented full-time faculty members to join our community, and this group is also among the most diverse in our history. These are all wonderful steps forward and create a solid foundation from which to work in the future.

I want to thank each member of the four task forces for their insights and dedicated work on this important initiative.  Building and fostering a diverse and inclusive community is rooted in our identity as a Catholic university, which emphasizes the dignity of every person.  The new initiatives outlined by our task force members serve as a catalyst for continued DISJ efforts, as together, we recommit ourselves to building upon the progress we have made on recruitment and hiring practices, orientation and training, and the ongoing process of living out our mission every day.


James T. Harris III, DEd