Diversity, equity and inclusion — DEI for short — was heard a lot during Thursday’s gathering of Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s Council of Trustees.
“We are exploring ways for DEI to be at the center of what we do in all levels of the (Administration and Finance) Division, with varying types of employees,” IUP Vice President for Administration and Finance Dr. Debra L. Fitzsimmons told the trustees.
Division-wide, the effort includes matching students with employees for mentorship and shadowing opportunities. In Human Resources, Fitzsimmons said it includes exploring anti-bias training options for search committees and blind recruitment (that is, removing personally identifiable information from the résumés of applicants to overcome unconscious bias).
It’s an effort that has been ongoing, including walking audits held a year ago that included President Dr. Michael A. Driscoll, as well as small groups of students and administrators.
“Discussions on the walks confirmed that some groups feel left out or underrepresented on campus,” IUP Associate Vice President for Administration and Finance Sam Phillips said. “These included Black/Brown, Asian, Pacific Islander and other minority students, LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex and asexual) community members, and disabled students.”
It ranges from inclusive artwork and murals and the identifying of more than 70 all-gender restrooms to a Crimson Scholars Circle, meant to help minority students build relationships, gather information and get resources they need, along with a $1,000 scholarship.
“Thanks to an anonymous donation, multiple university divisions teamed up to create the Crimson Scholars Circle, a project that took just two months to go from idea to reality,” Driscoll told the Council of Trustees.
“It’s both a one-week early immersion experience and a year-long support program designed to reduce the retention and persistence gap for our Black and Brown students by introducing them to college life and showing them all the resources available to them at IUP, so they can succeed,” Driscoll continued.
“We are assessing these students every step of the way,” IUP Vice President for Student Affairs Thomas Segar said, about a program that signed up 71 students as well as 14 student mentors.
The Circle started off with a week that included classroom time — and a day at Camp Lutherlyn, a campground and environmental education center near Butler.
Segar said the team that made the Circle possible includes the Academic Success Center, Admissions, the Career and Professional Development Center, the Center for Multicultural Student Leadership, Housing and Dining, Institutional Research, Marketing and Communications, Segar’s office, Strategic Partnerships and the Student Cooperative Association.
Elsewhere at IUP, public safety efforts also are affected by DEI.
“This summer, IUP Police have undergone extensive training and preparations for the Fall Semester which included trainings with the Indiana Borough (Police Department and) State Police (at Troop A, Indiana), and diversity, equity and inclusion training,” Interim Director of Public Safety and University Police Anthony Clement said.
“As of Monday, Aug. 9,” Clement continued, “all IUP police officers have completed this training or its equivalent as an extension of the 2020 Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Training Initiative.”
Clement said the 2021 training initiative ensures that all officers have completed a course in “Principled Criminal Justice and Police Legitimacy, “which focuses on the history of law enforcement, implicit bias, improving legitimacy through community dialogue, and duty to intervene.”
The emphasis on DEI also coincides with IUP’s continued coping with the COVID-19 pandemic. In her remarks during the Enrollment Management Committee session at the trustee meeting, IUP Vice President for Enrollment Management Dr. Patricia McCarthy shared research regarding the pandemic’s effects on the academic plans and performance of both high school and college students by ethnicity.
As summed up in her report by committee Chair Joyce Fairman, McCarthy “cited the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, which noted there was an ‘unprecedented’ drop of two percentage points in retention for the Fall 2019 freshman class nationally.”
The center said Hispanic students, or Latinx as university officials called them, had the most notable drop in retention at public, four-year institutions.
“Dr. McCarthy stated that it will be imperative for IUP to closely watch trends with its own students and to continue to support them with very student-centric approaches,” Fairman said.