By Jill Russell
One of our strategic priorities at Lebanon Valley College is promoting and sustaining inclusive excellence across the curricular and co-curricular experience. But why? As a refresher, what is the meaning of inclusive excellence? Making excellence inclusive as stated by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) is “an active process through which colleges and universities achieve excellence in learning, teaching, student development, institutional functioning, and engagement in local and global communities and requires that we uncover inequities in student success, identify effective educational practices, and build such practices organically for sustained institutional change.” LVC’s Blueprint for Inclusive Excellence (http://www.lvc.edu/about/institutional-priorities/inclusive-excellence/blueprint-for-inclusive-excellence/) outlines five core principles to facilitate the achievement of our inclusive excellence initiative: diversity, inclusion, equity, civility, and affirmative action. These principles have been included in our mission statement, EV2020, faculty/staff professional development workshops and other important recent work completed by committees, task forces and individual departments. We have seen an increase in the number of academic and student programming opportunities which tackle topics pertaining to the five core principles. Many of our faculty and staff are adopting new strategies and pedagogies to help meet the needs of our students. We are making progress in a number of areas, but much work still needs to be done.
So why should we continue to strive for a more equitable and inclusive environment at LVC? We commit to these values because our students are asking us to do so. Current students falling into Generation Z (birth years between 1995- 2010) demonstrate increased concern about equality and issues of social justice. They are a highly racially diverse generation with larger, more complex social circles. As stated in the recent book Generation Z Goes to College (Seemiller & Grace, 2016, p. 40), between 56 – 61% of Generation Z students are concerned about racism, sexism and poverty in their communities. They assume that institutions of higher education will be ready to talk about these complex issues and provide insight into how students might become more prepared problem solvers in their lives after their college experience. In an AAC&U statement issued in June 2016 (https://www.aacu.org/about/statements/2016/ut-fisher) , the stance is taken “that higher education institutions would be in a far better position to address controversies related to difference if educational leaders were as explicit as possible—from the day staff and faculty are hired and from the moment that students first apply—about the fact that one of the essential college learning outcomes is effectively engaging diverse perspectives, a proficiency which centrally includes taking seriously and respectfully the perspectives of others.” It is on us as an institution of liberal education that we prepare our students for a more diverse world filled with both the promise of new opportunities and the reality of continued inequities. We must be honest with our intentions, have meaningful and, at times, uncomfortable conversations, be prepared to make mistakes, and model the value of respecting the perspectives of others on a consistent basis. This is the responsibility of all higher education professionals, whether teaching a class or preparing payroll checks for our valuable and hard-working employees.
On Tuesday, January 24 we will once again come together as a community to celebrate our efforts at our annual Symposium on Inclusive Excellence. Now in its fourth year, the Symposium serves as a catalyst for active and robust discussions amongt students, faculty, and staff related to building and sustaining an inclusive community. We will start the day with a keynote address provided by Dr. Charles H.F. Davis, Director of Higher Education Research and Initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education. This will be followed by over 30 afternoon sessions, simulations, and dialogues. It is our hope that you will make a personal commitment to support the Symposium’s key events and inspire your students to see the values gained from participating. We are also compelled to find ways to continue ongoing and sustained conversations around these topics once the Symposium has passed. These steps will help ensure that we become a fully inclusive campus community and graduate students who are ready to examine and embrace the unique and complex diversities of our world.