Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion gives update to committee

Daniel Moore

The Rev. Ronald Fowler was at the Kent State Gospel Choir concert when he saw something that moved him deeply. It provided him with a snapshot of the university’s diversity at its best.

An Asian foreign exchange student was a member of the choir, he said, but she was no stranger to the group. At the end of the concert, her Asian friends joined her on stage and the entire choir sang together, swaying and raising their hands in collective testimony.

“As I watched her, knowing she was an exchange student, I said that we are sending an ambassador of inclusive excellence — something she learned at Kent State University,” Fowler said.

The Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DDEI) hosted members of the President’s Commission on Inclusion for a reception Thursday in the Student Center Ballroom. The purpose of the reception was to recognize its work and provide the commission members with an update on the progress of the division since its founding 15 months ago.

Fowler, the chair of the Commission on Inclusion, said he felt the Asian choir student was proof of the work of the committee and division at its best.

“That’s what we’re all about: Sending out scholars — people capable of discovering the excellence that’s a part of this university,” he said. “We don’t have to go to Harvard. Those who go, fine. But this is Harvard for us, right here. We’re doing that kind of work, right here. We’ve got the leadership, we’ve got the staff, we’ve got the people.”

President Lester Lefton applauded the work of the committee and said he regards the creation of the DDEI among one of his greatest personal accomplishments.

“What you have done, what we are doing together may be one of the most important things we do for students at Kent State,” Lefton said. “We can teach them history, mathematics and geology, but understanding how to relate to one another as humans, to break bread with people that aren’t just like us … may seem small, but I think it’s very big.”

Lefton said making Kent State a truly inclusive environment has been one of his top priorities. The committee is not only on its way to accomplishing that, he said, but it is doing it the right way.

“I’m especially proud that Kent State has embraced the premise that inclusive excellence goes hand in hand with academic excellence,” Lefton said. “Individually and collectively, your work has set in motions actions that have already made a difference on campus.”

Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Alfreda Brown said diversity is not always easy. The power to overcome those obstacles, she said, comes from a personal level.

“There are challenges around diversity, but when you have that passion — that’s the reason why we do it,” Brown said. “(The committee has given) the university blueprints that will infuse inclusive excellence. We have embraced your vision.”

Brown ensured the committee that DDEI was promoting diversity through programs such as 100 Commitments and Diversity Scorecard; positions such as the President’s Ambassadorship and Provost’s Faculty Associates; and places such as the LGBTQ Center.

Assistant Vice President for Strategic Planning, Assessment and Research Management Fashaad Crawford reported on some of the diversity initiatives the university implemented the past 15 months according to specific recommendations made by the committee.

One of the committee’s suggestions was to restructure the Office of Diversity to increase authority, he said. In response, the university created DDEI and named Brown to a newly created vice president position that reports directly to Lefton.

Another recommendation, Crawford said, was to “support and enhance university recruitment, retention and scholarship programs” for underrepresented populations. The evidence for change lies in the fact the percentage of freshman ethnic students has increased every year from 2005 to 2010, he said.

“We have an array of initiatives specifically aiming to address recommendations of the committee,” Crawford said.

After the reception, a complete, 12-page packet of diversity initiatives was given to the committee members.

Brown awarded Fowler with the Diversity Trailblazers Award, an annual recognition of an “agent of change,” Brown said, who has made significant contributions to diversity and progress in the community.

In accepting the award, Fowler said he said all his life he had the dream of working with a lot of people to do something big.

“I don’t know if there’s anything as big as helping to build civility in the lives of people,” he said.

Contact Daniel Moore at [email protected] .