Advancing Equity with an Anti-Racist Foundation
by Tamara Stevenson, EdD, chief diversity officer and vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion
Racism—broadly defined as a social and institutional power structure that benefits or harms social groups based on racial classification—is deeply rooted in the United States’ laws, policies, and practices. The consequences of racism are not new or recent. In 2020, virally publicized incidents of police brutality and violence against African-American and Latinx communities; the surge in hate crimes against Asians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders due to stereotypes and misinformation about the COVID-19 global pandemic; and the disproportionately detrimental effects of COVID-19 on communities of color—including American Indian or Indigenous populations—serve as agonizing reminders of the attention that is still needed to address these systemic inequities.
Efforts to expand, include, and celebrate the multiple forms and expressions of diversity and to advance equity and inclusion have long existed at Westminster, thanks to the visible and invisible student, staff, and faculty champions who saw the need for and still respond to calls for social change on campus. In recent years, demonstrable strides have been made to formalize diversity, equity, and inclusion within the college’s operational infrastructure, highlighted by the Fall 2016 establishment of the cabinet-level chief diversity officer (CDO) position and of the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Considering that the CDO role has only existed for about five years at an institution that has been in existence for nearly 150 years, the focus on increasing campus awareness of systemic inequities and integrating diversity, equity, and inclusion into the campus culture requires a more formalized action plan.
Because colleges are microcosms of the general society, the conditions that exist in society are also present on college campuses, including Westminster. Current instances of social and civil unrest—and the effects of past and present policies and practices—call for specific steps to move conversations and actions forward based on an anti-racist, equity-informed foundation. This action plan will allow us to actualize the rhetoric of our Diversity Statement and our commitment to an inclusive Westminster. As a starting point, the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion—with support from faculty, staff, students, alums, and the board of trustees—is developing a seven-point strategy that will provide a relevant and responsive set of steps and activities to
- Increase inclusive student recruitment and retention practices
- Increase inclusive staff/faculty recruitment, hiring, and retention practices
- Expand diversity and anti-racism across the curriculum
- Implement mandatory implicit-bias and bystander-intervention education for students, staff, faculty, and the board of trustees
- Encourage student-, staff-, faculty-, and alum-led learning opportunities focused on anti-racism and systemic oppression
- Develop academic and administrative unit-level diversity, equity, and inclusion statements
- Conduct an archival research project focused on the college’s cultural history
An institution that values and practices diversity, equity, and inclusion requires honest, ongoing self-awareness and reflection to make equitable decisions with regard to how we serve our students and interact as members of the campus community. The anti-racist operational strategy is a tangible form of organizational accountability to inform and support Westminster as a responsive, innovative 21st century institution of higher learning anchored in leadership, equity, and wellness.
About the Westminster Review
The Westminster Review is Westminster University’s bi-annual alumni magazine that is distributed to alumni and community members. Each issue aims to keep alumni updated on campus current events and highlights the accomplishments of current students, professors, and Westminster alum.