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Building a purposeful DEIJ infrastructure at Mercy College

March 2, 2022

Andrés Matías-Ortiz

Interim Dean, School of Liberal Arts, Mercy College

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of EAB.

In the last three years, higher education institutions have had to reckon with intensified conversations on race and criminal justice on one hand, and increased disparities in academic performance within the context of a global pandemic on the other.

At Mercy College, we have observed how student performance-increasing DFWI rates, struggles with online (Zoom) classes, and difficulties passing gateway courses especially in STEM majors-demanded greater attention to these challenges, particularly in how we deal with widening achievement gaps that were closing prior to the pandemic.

Faculty, staff, and administrators have sought to merge our student success work with more intentional focus on equity and inclusion, thus prompting the following questions. How can we build an infrastructure that promotes and embeds DEIJ into our daily function(s) as an institution?

In heeding our mission, how can we truly be Hispanic- and minority-serving so that our students can achieve meaningful success? An infrastructure for meaningful student success that centralizes equity and inclusion is crucial for higher education especially in times of crisis.

We currently have significant components of a DEIJ infrastructure, though we seek more effective ways to articulate our goals and address accountability. Across the college, we have a senate task force engaging the college on questions of diversity, equity, and inclusion. We have grants in health and natural sciences, social and behavioral sciences, and the school of liberal arts that are meant to student performance and improve teaching in-person, online, and other modalities.

The pandemic undoubtedly forced abrupt pedagogical adjustments that are still being navigated. Institutional Research has been providing useful disaggregated data on student performance in targeted general education and gateway courses. Last, but certainly not least, the president’s toolkit for student success currently contains four points that can be integrated into this broader plan for equity and inclusion:

  • Gateway course support initiatives
  • Mindset and belonging
  • Data strategy – what to DO with that disaggregated data
  • Career-embedded learning

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Here are a few solutions that could integrate much of what we already do in silos. We could begin small by first including a diversity statement on our website. We want prospective students, faculty, and staff to know where we stand, and we do not want to take our diverse student body for granted.

Second, produce an action plan with clear and attainable goals. The president’s toolkit goals are a good beginning. It will require a concerted effort to bring the works of our respective silos together through accountable representatives from each school.

Lastly, the big-ticket item is to create a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice Center within our existing Center for Teaching and Learning. This was, in part, inspired by the Center for Diversity and Inclusion at American University. A center could be a space for centralizing projects, providing critical information to the college community and beyond, and serving as a hub for critical resources, discussions, and exchanges of ideas. This would bring students into a center that is exclusively for faculty to promote inclusion.

Brainstorming how this center could be created and administered will be the immediate challenge should we consider pursuing such a project.

I relied heavily on an EAB presentation titled “Spotlighting Pitfalls to Avoid in Independent School DEIJ Plan Design and Writing.” I recognized many familiar pitfalls presented in this critical source. Gina Ann García’s book, Becoming Hispanic-Serving Institutions: Opportunities for Colleges and Universities (2019) is also a great resource for getting us to rethink how we can use metrics and services to assist students more effectively. The EAB’s “10 tips to make your faculty recruitment website more candidate friendly,” is also great for reflecting on how our website can better communicate our identity and commitment as Hispanic- and minority-serving.

I very much appreciated Jane Griffing and Kristin Landis-Piwowar’s insight on how DEIJ issues are being addressed-at different stages-in their respective institutions. I truly hope that our plans are taken up in some form. Thank you, EAB, for grouping us. And thank you for the opportunity to gain greater insights through the presentations and many breakout room discussions with other fellows.

See the fellows’ blogs from the capstone projects

Andrés Matías-Ortiz and others participated in EAB’s Rising Higher Education Leaders Fellowship in fall 2021

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