University inclusion committee works to diversify campus

Madeline Bruce, Features Editor

Police brutality. Protests. Riots. Looting. The conversation of racial injustice in the United States has been a long, complex one, and it only seems to be getting more heated. Gannon University faculty and staff decided to form a committee to work toward a more just, equal and diverse campus.

This is the purpose of Gannon’s new Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Steering Committee, also known as the JEDI committee.

According to Becky Perry, committee co-chair and director of Gannon’s Center for Social Concerns and Global Exploration, JEDI formed during the summer in response to the civil unrest that broke out across the country. Members have been working to create a mission for Gannon as it works toward a more long-term inclusive campus.

“We are looking at what we are doing as a university to create a welcoming and supportive environment for people of all backgrounds and cultures, and they identify ways we can grow and improve,” Lori Lindley, Ph.D., co-chair of the JEDI committee and dean of the College of Humanities, Education and Social Sciences, said.

Like the college’s racial justice task force, the university-wide committee was formed in response to racism and specifically the death of George Floyd, but Perry said that the group’s focus is broader than the issue of race.

“We have a lot of work to do really across different gaps that we have in our Gannon community,” Perry said.

This inclusion comprises a number of identity groups, like race, gender, sexual orientation, religion and nationality.

While the JEDI committee has been in the works since the summer, Perry said that getting it off the ground and establishing a mission has been a drawn-out process, which can be upsetting for students.

“I know that students have been frustrated because they’re not necessarily seeing what the committee is planning,” Perry said. “And they have every right to be seeing what we’re doing, so coming up with a mission statement and those defining words matters so much.”

The committee plans to reveal its mission statement at a forum held sometime  this month. This forum will be both a way to communicate with Gannon students and faculty and commemorate Black History Month. Above all, Perry said that the word “steering” in the name of the committee is important.

“I’d say at the core of what the group is doing is that we’re steering the work, but we’re not doing all of the work,” she said. “The work is across campus.”

That work includes two parts, both a long-term institutional action plan and immediate action in the next year.

Immediate action includes a variety of things the committee will do to create an inclusive environment across campus as well as inspire action in members of the Gannon community.

The long-term action plan, Perry said, is still in the works, much like a lot of what the committee is doing. However, the goal is that the plan will be implemented as soon as possible and will be set over a five- to seven-year period, aiming to create a space on campus for diversity, equity and inclusion work.

“I believe we will see broader cultural representation visible in the events and spaces on campus, increasing the sense that this is a place that is welcoming for everyone,” Lindley said.

The committee is not only faculty-driven, though. A student advisory board is in place to include student input and ideas in the JEDI committee’s planning.

“The group is really diverse, and it makes me proud because you wouldn’t think you’re at a predominantly white institution,” Perry said. “It’s not just racial diversity. There’s diversity in gender and orientation, as well.”

Student involvement is key in the action the committee is steering. Students see issues that the university faces from a different standpoint. The inclusion of students is also important in shaping their own experiences as well.

“Ultimately, all of this work, at the root, has the goal of creating an inclusive space for our students,” Perry said. “We wouldn’t exist without students, and that piece is really at the heart of all that we do. That’s why having that student group is so important.”

Claudia Herrero, president of the International Hispanic Association and representative for the club on the JEDI student advisory committee, said that the JEDI board is fully committed to listening to students’ opinions and experiences in regard to diversity and inclusivity issues on campus. However, this is just the beginning.

“I think this board has a lot of work to do regarding our next steps and action plans, because we are in a time in which words are not enough to solve the inequity that some are experiencing in our community,” she said.

Some of those plans include changes in practices. This, Perry said, is focusing on the small-scale, behind-the-scenes details that aren’t often thought of.

“It’s not that we don’t want to do a bunch of big events that bring people together,” she said. “That’s definitely on our radar. But there’s a lot of changes in practices that I think will help us do better.”

Another issue Perry is focused on with the committee is long-term action. Change needs to be the norm, she said, not just a trend of the moment. While it is important to host an event or commemorate Black History Month, taking real action that is long-term and creates real change is equally as important.

“This needs to become part of our regular routine, not just because things are happening in the world, but because it’s important,” she said.

Inclusion of the university community is also very important to the committee. In each step it takes, input from Gannon students, staff, faculty and even alumni is imperative to carry out Gannon’s mission and the mission of the committee.

That mission is in the process of being created, and Perry said that holding the forum will be an opportunity to release it to the community, as well as receive feedback on the mission. Guiding the committee is the mission of Gannon as a whole, said both Lindley and Perry.

“Gannon’s mission highlights the importance of preparing students to be global citizens and emphasizes inclusiveness and social responsibility,” Lindley said. “That means we must always be striving to understand other cultures and perspectives, and to address injustices and inequities in our communities, nation and world.”


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