Message from the Chief Diversity Officer: Campus leaders for inclusive excellence

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Throughout the COVID-19 global pandemic and the social justice unrest brought to light this year, I have been amazed at the resilience, the gracious acknowledgement of our interdependence and the interrelatedness evidenced by acts of courage and generosity among our App State community. We have been challenged and our humanity has shown through. I applaud the work of the individuals and groups on our campus and across the UNC System, and so many others, who prevailed in spite of the odds this year. We have continued on our path of progress.

Diversity and inclusion continue to be priorities within the broader UNC System. On Dec. 4, the UNC System’s Racial Equity Task Force held a public meeting during which the group reviewed and approved six recommendations, which Task Force Chair Reginald Ronald Holley of the UNC Board of Governors lauded as a “guiding force, a defining tool and a launching pad for what needs to be done.” The recommendations provide specific action items for:

  • hiring staff to directly support diversity and inclusion work;
  • increasing representation and retention at all levels;
  • establishing reporting requirements, accountability mechanisms and processes for data collection and accountability;
  • creating educational programming for diversity and inclusion standards;
  • developing and supporting programs that improve equitable outcomes; and
  • addressing racial equity in campus policing.

The final report was informed by many contributors from UNC System institutions, including several representatives from App State. The report was shared with UNC System leadership last week, and will be presented in full to the Board of Governors at their Jan. 20 meeting.

Our efforts on campus complement the recommendations of the UNC System and I am proud to work alongside groups and individuals at App State who are fostering an inclusive campus environment. We appreciate Chancellor Everts’ ongoing prioritization of resources to support the many important diversity and inclusion initiatives on our campus.

  • We are continuing work on our campus-wide Comprehensive Strategic Diversity Plan. We feel it is important to allow more opportunities for the university community to ask questions about this plan, so we will be using the Charrette Model for Educational Strategic Planning before releasing the final version of the plan. The charrettes will consist of three Listening Sessions, each scheduled for one hour, featuring breakout rooms for each goal of the Comprehensive Strategic Diversity Plan. We will share more information about these events in January.
  • This semester our efforts gained further momentum through the creation by Chancellor Everts and the Chancellor’s Cabinet of our Diversity and Inclusion Accountability Team. An overview of each Accountability Team meeting is shared on our Diversity and Inclusion website, and work on the critical initiatives continues.
  • Dr. Jennifer Burris, professor in and chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, was one of three recipients internationally to be honored with The Optical Society’s 2020 Diversity and Inclusion Advocacy Recognition.
  • This fall, the Appalachian Police Department (APD) hosted and sponsored the Train-the-Trainer program developed by Fair and Impartial Policing (FIP) LLC. As a result, 15 High Country police officers, including five members of the APD, are now certified to provide implicit bias training to other sworn officers and officers in training.
  • Dr. Jamie Parson, an assistant professor in the Department of Finance, Banking and Insurance, helped secure a $75,000 grant from The Spencer Foundation to fund the Diversity and Inclusion Initiative — part of the Brantley Center’s Building Insurance Talent program — that includes, among other components, a mentorship program for underrepresented students.
  • The Inclusive Excellence Team within the Center for Academic Excellence is also an epicenter for encouraging change on App State’s campus. The team has many active initiatives, including leveraging a high-quality online professional development course from Columbia University to help more faculty gain an understanding of basic inclusive teaching principles.
  • App State was selected as one of 19 universities to join Aspire: The National Alliance for Inclusive & Diverse STEM Faculty — a three-year effort to increase the diversity of our STEM faculty. Faculty members Dr. Tracie Salinas and Dr. Susan Colby will lead this work on our campus.
  • On Dec. 15, 89 App State faculty, staff and administrators participated in the university’s fourth Inclusion Infusion Summer Diversity Institute, which was postponed until now due to COVID-19. This year’s event was titled “Culturally Responsive Pedagogy: Towards Making Excellence Inclusive” and I was proud to serve as the host. The program encourages inclusionary practices and relationships and was facilitated by Dr. Timothy Forde, chair of the School of Education, Human Development and Consumer Sciences at Kentucky State University.

There is much hard work ahead of us and I am encouraged by what I’ve seen this year. Minoritized communities tend to speak in the “we” — as are the ideals of collectivism, which prioritize the needs of the group over the individual. As “we” continue to move our university toward greater inclusivity “we” will consider all of us in this wonderful process.

/s/ Willie C. Fleming

Dr. Willie Fleming