We are asking RIT leaders share with us just a bit of what they are doing to advance the RIT Action Plan for Race and Ethnicity. We have two updates: the first from the College of Science, with Interim Dean André O. Hudson, followed by Ian Mortimer, outgoing Vice President for Enrollment Management.
College of Science
The College of Science (COS) is leveraging new and continuing projects and initiatives to advance our goals related to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). In 2017, the College of Science received funding from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to create the Inclusive Excellence Program, which has supported the goal of improving inclusion in the College through workshops, faculty cohorts, community-building events, and student fellowships. As of this semester (Fall 2022), we are proud to share that ~70% of the Biology, Physics, and Chemistry faculty have participated in one or more of our cohorts. These numbers continue to grow as we invite new faculty from all of the academic units within the COS to participate. As our external funding ends, our Interim Dean, Dr. André Hudson, has demonstrated his ongoing commitment to this effort by hiring a new Inclusive Excellence Program Manager (Dr. Jacqueline Ludwig) through the Dean’s Office to ensure the continuity and sustainability of the program. In January, Inclusive Excellence will seek applications from students with marginalized identities for our sixth year of the Inclusive Excellence Undergraduate Research Fellowship program.
For the last six months, a mixed team of faculty, staff, and administrators from the College of Science worked on a report summarizing current barriers to inclusion and equity in the College and created suggestions for growth in the DEI space. The group was charged with creating The COS DEI Plan. The College is currently employing this report to guide DEI priorities over the coming years. Based on this report, Interim Dean Dr. André Hudson appointed Dr. Lea Vacca Michel as the College's first Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Director. Under Dr. Michel’s direction, we hosted companion programming to commemorate the Division of Diversity and Inclusion’s first annual Together RIT event and reflect on the relationship between science and racism. In the future, Dr. Michel will work collaboratively with Dr. Ludwig to bring new and continuing events, programming, and initiatives to the College, which includes further department-wide bias training for all academic units in the COS, including all faculty, not just the search committees, hiring new faculty, a public lecture by Dr. Adam Rutherford (author of “How to Argue with a Racist”), and support for new and existing students affinity groups, such as COS AALANA among others.
Enrollment Management – Ian Mortimer
From conversations with the RIT Board of Trustees Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, the impetus of the Action Plan for Diversity and Inclusion, and the alignment of K-12 with Enrollment Management, there is an improved sense of focus on our responsibilities in improving RIT’s capacity in furthering a diverse environment.
As a starting point, what have we learned?
The economic and emotional impact of choosing to attend a private university, and not persisting to graduation, is severe and life-changing. For many diverse students, particularly those that come from more modest economic realities, our support plan needs to be informed by models that connect.
In the spirit of the Action Plan, with a great high school partner, we have adjusted our support and services model to be more cohort-based and ensuring there is a primary point of contact to facilitate needs. This is the first semester of a pilot program with DREAM Charter, with leadership provided by the School for Individualized Study, and we will learn about where we have strengths and gaps. The success of our HEOP students is a model for this partnership.
In addition to the implementation of a new model via DREAM Charter, we have expanded our communication and learning with Rochester Prep. Thanks to their leadership and commitment to RIT, Rochester Prep has built a very strong connection with Donna Burnette, Kraig Farrell, and others on the K-12 team; ensuring we have the pulse of every student. The pre-college work that was initiated by Kit Mayberry (i.e. Capstone research, etc.) is a tremendous foundation. Now, that stream of knowledge and communication has extended to current students. Thus, we are learning from each other in a systemic fashion.
Thanks to Ms. Sally Douglas, and leadership in the Performing Arts, we held our first on-site auditions for the Performing Arts Scholars program at the School for the Performing Arts (SOTA) in downtown Rochester. This is another example of learning through new initiatives and expanding our connectivity with organizations that help us learn. Kudos to Sally and the counseling teams at SOTA.
Lastly, the university has invested in focus groups to better understand why students did not return to RIT in the fall of 2022 (having started in fall 2021). From these focus groups we will better understand the positive experiences and challenges of being a non-majority white student at RIT, and the motivations to not return. This information will be shared with the Student Success Steering Committee in mid-January.
The RIT Action Plan for Race and Ethnicity calls for student performance improvements. Over the past few months we have expanded our understanding of practices that, with scale, may help our overall performance. Some of the next focus areas are student funding models and new partnership opportunities.