By James David Martin July 30, 2015
The Board of Trustees (the Board) in fall 2014 passed a resolution on diversity that marked a key point in the evolution of efforts to diversify the CIIS community and academic curriculum. The timing of the resolution, which coincided with the creation of the University's 2020 Strategic Plan, provides an opportunity to weave diversity into every section of the plan and establishes it as an important objective.
The resolution, which established the President's Initiative on Diversity (the Initiative), set five areas of primary focus: curricula; student recruitment and financial aid; faculty and staff recruitment, hiring, training, review, and promotion; student advising and mentoring; and University structure and finance.
The Initiative deepens the commitment to making CIIS a more inclusive institution, as a primary goal outlined in CIIS's Strategic Plan "to embody and model a diverse, inclusive, socially just and interculturally sensitive learning community."
The Board called upon President Joseph L. Subbiondo to lead the Initiative in consultation with students, staff, faculty, administrators, alumni, and trustees, and to track its progress.
BUILDING ON EARLIER FOUNDATIONS
Efforts to make the University more diverse and inclusive have been under way for many years. In 1999, Subbiondo formed the Diversity Action Team and created a new Director of Diversity position in 2004, with Lesa Hammond (TID '01) at the helm. Former Dean of Students Shirley Strong followed as director, and in 2007, she formed the Diversity, Inclusion, and Social Justice Committee (DISJ).
The Faculty Diversity Committee, also formally created in 2007, holds at least one retreat each year, a practice begun in 2004 by Academic Vice President Judie Wexler. Building on the work of Strong and the legacy of many others, as well as the 2015 Initiative, Arisika Razak, Director of Diversity and DISJ Cochair, has been collaborating with faculty, staff, and students to actualize CIIS' commitment to welcome and support a diversity of personal and cultural identities, within the classroom and in the institutional environment as a whole.
"In my work with students, staff, and faculty, the need for financial support for trainings, full scholarships for financially challenged students, and released time to do the work of updating and diversifying our programs and curricula has emerged as a pressing issue," says Razak, who is also a professor in the Women's Spirituality program.
Ensuring that all students are able to see themselves reflected in the curriculum from a place of strength is essential to providing the inclusive, affirming, diverse, and interculturally sensitive teaching and learning environment that the University aspires to.
Academic programs and faculty have been working to diversify their curricula, in large part because students of color have called for courses that reflect an understanding of their communities; understand the needs and demands of marginalized groups and communities; and master the facilitation skills that will help them support the challenges of teaching in the multicultural global classroom of the 21st century.
Faculty in the Expressive Arts Therapy program realized that a single course on diversity could not address such a complex set of issues. "'Diversity' and 'inclusion' issues are deeply embedded into the Expressive Arts Therapy curriculum," says Program Director Shoshana Simons. "And it's essential for our students to understand how their own social positionality and dimensions of difference might impact their relationships with the diverse range of clients they will be serving. We center our curriculum around the questions 'Who am I as a therapist?' 'Who are my clients?' and 'Which theories and modalities of practice are congruent with the specific needs of the clients I am serving?'"
THE INITIATIVE IN ACTION
As well, a variety of staff and faculty are engaged in providing trainings to enhance the community's knowledge of diversity, inclusivity, and intercultural communication.
In February, the MFA Programs at CIIS sponsored "28 Days of Blackness," a series of workshops, performances, and lectures celebrating the lives of people of African descent in America. The series also created a forum for the CIIS community to explore and dialogue about the historical and ongoing racism in the everyday lived experience of African and black Americans.
Theatre for Change, a project of the Drama Therapy program developed in 2003 to educate and raise consciousness about diversity on campus (and beyond), continues its groundbreaking work.
For the past six years, CIIS's contract with the City and County of San Francisco has underwritten the initiatives of the California Mental Health Services Act.
Recent Public Programs & Performances events have included Michelle Alexander discussing her book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness; an evening with transgender actor and activist Laverne Cox that brought together the Bay Area's LGBTQI community; Eduardo Duran speaking about his clinical work with indigenous native peoples; Cornel West's lecture on "The Burden of African American Men"; and a concert series highlighting musicians from Mali.
June marks the Sixth Annual Expanding the Circle Summer Institute, which focuses on LGBTQ issues in higher education. The Summer Institute inspired a recently published book, Expanding the Circle: Creating an Inclusive Environment in Higher Education for LGBTQ Students and Studies, by former keynote speaker John C. Hawley.
And CIIS student affinity groups-new and longstanding-such as AWARE (Awakening to Whiteness and Racism Everywhere), POC (People of Color) Thrive, Queer@CIIS, and Trangress are educating their constituencies about how to better respond to problematic interactions inside the classroom and in the University environment as a whole. The groups are open to students, faculty, and staff.
WALKING THE TALK
Because of its broad representation across all areas of the University, the DISJ is a place where the Initiative intersects with the CIIS community. The DISJ comprises several subcommittees, which focus on curriculum, language and representation, recruitment and retention, and teaching resources, among other areas. Subcommittees also serve to help expand the definition of diversity, including a new area of focus for DISJ, disability.
Sara Acevedo, disability rights advocate and PhD candidate in Anthropology and Social Change, is leading the charge. "As long as there is silence around issues of disability justice in diverse educational institutions such as ours," argues Acevedo, "we are not being inclusive, we are not being diverse, and we are ultimately not walking the talk."
The DISJ is taking great care to identify program-specific definitions of diversity, noting how and where they intersect with the overarching goals of the University-where they dovetail, align, and do not align-then making recommendations to ensure that CIIS embodies a diverse, inclusive, socially just, and interculturally sensitive learning community.
To that end, the Communications department has spearheaded a project to review and amend language in all official CIIS collateral (print and online) to make it more inclusive; and HR continues to revise the University hiring guidelines across all departments.
As the Initiative continues to find its form, CIIS welcomes the opportunity to engage in enriching and sometimes challenging conversations across different cohorts and communities within the larger CIIS community.
Key to achieving the 2020 Strategic Plan's mandate of diversity and social justice as a core commitment is embedding them throughout the curriculum and ensuring that University policies and procedures reflect these values consistently.
"For CIIS to create the inclusive community that we have committed ourselves to requires that everyone at every level of the University participate," says Subbiondo, "not just me, not just the DISJ. So many institutions, no matter how noble their intentions are, fall short in this work for a variety of reasons, and we cannot allow that here. We have to do better."
(Image by Nye' Lyn Tho)