SPARTANBURG, S.C. — In July, the college launched a new strategic vision process, one that recognizes a fissure in our society and responds with a measured approach based on the college’s foundation and strength in the liberal arts. Has this process made everyone happy? No, but it has continued the college’s tradition of thinking broadly and deeply about justice, equity, diversity and inclusion with the intent of engaging all of the college’s constituents in substantive and lasting improvement.
Dr. Christine Dinkins, William R. Kenan Professor of Philosophy, and Dr. Ramón Galiñanes, director of undergraduate research and post-graduate fellowships, are chairs of the 16-member Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Steering Committee. This group, made up of students, faculty, staff and trustees, is sharing their work under JEDI Steering Committee at wofford.edu/strategicvision.
What is JEDI’s mission and how does JEDI reflect the college’s core values?
Dinkins: Our committee’s mission is to help light the way toward an equitable, just Wofford for the future. Wofford’s stated core values are:
- Collaborative teaching and learning.
- Freedom of inquiry.
- Academic excellence.
- Intellectual curiosity.
- Critical thinking.
- Community and global engagement.
- Diversity and inclusiveness.
We want to be guided by every single one of these values in our work. The work of our committee is itself one of collaborative teaching and learning, from each other, from those on our campus already doing equity work, from those we will hear from in listening sessions. And any recommendations we make for changes in curriculum or other college structures will be guided by the goals of freedom of inquiry, academic excellence, intellectual curiosity, and critical thinking. One of Wofford’s greatest strengths is the commitment of faculty, staff and students to engaging with the Spartanburg community and across cultural differences around the globe. A strive toward equity should necessarily create more spaces and more support for that kind of engagement. For diversity and inclusiveness, we will be looking not just at the changing demographics of Wofford’s prospective students, but at diversity and inclusion in the processes that make our college what it is. How can we move toward more and more of our processes modeling participatory inclusion of diverse voices? Sustainability – Wofford stands in a national moment in a changing world. Today’s students want a focus on equity, and they want to do the work to make their community and their world more just. Meeting those students where they are and making opportunities for them to learn and engage around issues of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion can make Wofford a national leader and sustain our college for years to come.
How is JEDI structuring its work?
Galiñanes: The visioning work of the committee will be built on what we learn from the listening sessions and from the work being conducted in the five working groups.
- History, Memory and Place (led by me).
- Curriculum, Teaching and Advising (led by Christine Dinkins).
- Student Life (led by James Stukes).
- Enrollment, Recruitment and Marketing (led by Arsenio Parks).
- Policies, Procedures and JEDI Structure (led by Tasha Smith-Tyus).
The working groups are tasked with research, assessment and some action items taken along the way as we undertake the strategic visioning process. The listening sessions will be facilitated by the JEDI co-chairs, Dr. Debora Johnson-Ross ’81, our independent consultant, and a team of student researchers who will be collecting notes and supporting the process.
How will JEDI share progress, and how often can we expect updates from JEDI?
Dinkins: Approximately once a month. We will share progress through our website and through the Conquer and Prevail newsletter.
Does JEDI have a budget or an allocation of financial resources to do this work? If so, how is the steering group using the funding?
Galiñanes: Yes. We have an allocation of financial resources to undertake this process. We have started to use some of these resources by hiring Dr. Debora Johnson-Ross ’81 as a senior consultant. She has been doing important work in higher education for decades now, and we are very fortunate to have been able to recruit her to work with us. Additionally, we have also hired Caitlynn Myer ’18 to work as a project coordinator for JEDI. Caitlynn recently graduated from Clemson University’s graduate program in higher education, and she was a very engaged Bonner scholar during her time at Wofford.
What’s the purpose of the listening sessions and how can someone share their thoughts?
Dinkins: The primary purpose of the listening sessions is to hear from as many people as possible about what Wofford means to them, how they think Wofford should acknowledge its past and give them a chance to share their vision for Wofford’s future. We also hope these sessions will be a positive experience for those who participate — a chance to hear the thoughts of others in the session and to share their own thoughts with a group of active listeners. We are also very excited that we have a team of eight extremely bright and talented student researchers who are attending listening sessions, taking notes and helping with the data analysis.
For a schedule of listening sessions, readers can go to our website wofford.edu/strategicvision. Anyone who wants to be sure to be invited to a listening session should go to our website and let us know. Also, for anyone who prefers to give their thoughts in writing, we have a survey option as well. We are hoping that with the listening sessions and the surveys, we will be able to hear from many, many people who care about Wofford — its past, present and future.
How is JEDI going about the work of unpacking the college’s history?
Galiñanes: Some of this work has already taken place during the summer and previous years as part of some courses and the faculty-student collaborative research program with projects led by Dr. Rhiannon Leebrick and Dr. Jim Neighbors and a team of student researchers. And, of course, Dr. Phillip Stone ’94 has been unpacking the college’s history for some time now, and he is instrumental in supporting the work of the JEDI committee when it comes to questions of Wofford’s history.
When will JEDI make a recommendation to the Board of Trustees?
Galiñanes: In February 2021, JEDI will present preliminary findings from the listening sessions and the research from the working groups. In May of 2021, JEDI will present a draft vision and strategic plan to the Board of Trustees for their review and consideration.
There is much to celebrate in the 2019 Diversity Report. There also are other people and organizations on campus working toward justice, equity, diversity and inclusion. How is JEDI a part of this culture of positive change?
Dinkins: In doing our work, we want to acknowledge the extent to which there is already so much equity work being done by Wofford’s faculty, staff and students — for instance the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the Antiracism Action Team (a group of faculty and staff collaborators), Wofford’s National Coalition Building Institute team, the Wofford Anti-Racism Coalition (a group of students and recent alumni), the Center for Innovation and Learning and students doing community-engaged work through our Undergraduate Research program. Our committee is building on this work. Some of the key data we are studying has been produced by this prior work, and we are relying on our committee members who are already experienced in equity work to guide our committee process and lead our working groups. Our hope is that while we do our strategic vision work, we can also amplify and support all the truly good work already being done.
President Samhat has said that JEDI is just the beginning. What do you hope to accomplish with this beginning?
Galiñanes: We hope to continue planting seeds and taking important steps in building a just, equitable, diverse and inclusive Wofford that we all love and all want to belong to.
How will we know that JEDI has been successful?
Dinkins: We will know we have been successful if all of Wofford’s stakeholders know they have been listened to, and that our strategic vision has been shaped through an inclusive, participatory process. And we will have been successful if that strategic vision is one that lights the path to an equitable, just, sustainable, flourishing Wofford for the future.
RACIAL JUSTICE DEFINITIONS
Edited from information from the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Often, race-focused conversations derail because people are using the same terms in different ways. Establishing a shared language to present data, describe conditions and outcomes and identify root causes of inequities serves an important function. It also makes it easier to communicate.
Equity is defined as “the state, quality or ideal of being just, impartial and fair.” The concept of equity is synonymous with fairness and justice.
EQUITY VS. EQUALITY
Equity involves trying to understand and give people what they need to enjoy full, healthy lives. Equality, in contrast, aims to ensure that everyone gets the same things in order to enjoy full, healthy lives. Equality only works if everyone starts from the same place and needs the same things.
Systemic equity is a complex combination of interrelated elements consciously designed to create, support and sustain social justice. It is a dynamic process that reinforces and replicates equitable ideas, power, resources, strategies, conditions, habits and outcomes.
Inclusion is the action or state of including or of being included within a group or structure. More than simply diversity and numerical representation, inclusion involves authentic and empowered participation and a true sense of belonging.
Racial justice is the systematic fair treatment of people of all races that results in equitable opportunities and outcomes for everyone. All people are able to achieve their full potential in life, regardless of race, ethnicity or the community in which they live. A “racial justice” framework can move us from a reactive posture to a more powerful, proactive and even preventive approach.
Race is a socially constructed system of categorizing humans largely based on observable physical features (phenotypes), such as skin color and on ancestry. There is no scientific basis for or discernible distinction between racial categories.
The concept of racism is widely thought of as simply personal prejudice, but in fact, it is a complex system of racial hierarchies and inequities. There is individual racism and broader racism that includes institutions and societal structures.
Internalized racism describes the private racial beliefs held by individuals. The way we absorb social messages about race and adopt them as personal beliefs, biases and prejudices are all within the realm of internalized racism.
Interpersonal racism is how our private beliefs about race become public when we interact with others. When we act upon our prejudices or unconscious bias, we engage in interpersonal racism. Interpersonal racism can be unintentional or willful and overt.
Institutional racism is racial inequity within institutions and systems of power, such as places of employment, government agencies and social services. It can take the form of unfair policies and practices, discriminatory treatment and inequitable opportunities and outcomes.
Structural racism (or structural racialization) is the racial bias across institutions and society. It describes the cumulative and compounding effects of an array of factors that systematically privilege white people and disadvantage people of color.
Since the word “racism” often is understood as a conscious belief, “racialization” may be a better way to describe a process that does not require intentionality. Structural racialization can create disparities without racist participants.
Systemic racialization describes a dynamic system that produces and replicates racial ideologies, identities and inequities. Systemic racialization is the well-institutionalized pattern of discrimination that cuts across major political, economic and social organizations in a society.
RACIAL PRIVILEGE AND RACIAL OPPRESSION
Like two sides of the same coin, racial privilege describes race-based advantages and preferential treatment based on skin color, while racial oppression refers to race-based disadvantages, discrimination and exploitation based on skin color.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation is devoted to developing a brighter future for millions of children at risk of poor educational, economic, social and health outcomes. Their work focuses on strengthening families, building stronger communities and ensuring access to opportunity, because children need all three to succeed.