After more than a year of a global pandemic and civil unrest throughout the country, institutions have been doubling down on their commitments to honor, protect, and support the unique identities of their entire student populations.

On September 29, 2021, Mentor Collective welcomed key figures from throughout higher education—including HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), HSIs (Hispanic Serving Institutions), and two-year institutions—to discuss how diversity, equity, and inclusivity (DEI) initiatives can increase sense of belonging among all students and ensure university sustainability.

Here are a few of the key takeaways from the event.

Decide How Your Institution Defines DEI

Donald Outing, Ph.D., who serves as both the vice president for equity & community and university diversity & inclusion officer at Lehigh University, was the co-host for this vital event. For him, it’s important not to just work within the institution, but to spend time and energy identifying, dismantling, and disrupting nationwide barriers to equity.

“Lehigh’s approach to DEI has changed dramatically over the last two years, accelerated by the events we experienced in 2020 around the pandemic and in the wake of a number of notable murders that were carried out in the public space,” said Outing. “As a result, we have begun applying a lens of anti-racism broadly across our internal access policies and procedures.”

For example, Lehigh formulated a commission to review their police department to ensure they’re meeting the community’s standards for developing healthy relationships and practices with their people of color. 

Move Beyond Your Institution’s Walls to Create Lasting Impact

Dania Matos, J.D., vice chancellor for equity and inclusion at UC Berkeley, related that they are at the forefront of referring to their initiatives as “DEIBJ,” adding belonging and justice to the moniker.

“The promise of equity continues to be just that, and closing equity gaps isn’t the end goal, rather shifting the entire system, because institutions of higher education still function as systems of oppression,” said Matos. “Rather than just provide supporting service to underrepresented or underserved students, we need to really move them to the center so that what we do for them is a benefit for all.”

To that end, UC Berkeley began their Basic Needs effort in response to seeing students experiencing food and housing insecurity.

“It started with an on-campus food pantry, but we moved to dealing with root issues and thinking about how to shift policy, practice, and laws,” said Fabrizio Mejia, assistant vice chancellor at UC Berkeley. “CalFresh, the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), wasn’t very accessible to the higher education community, so we began partnering with state legislature to fix these policy issues that led to food insecurity gaps. We went from a few students being eligible for CalFresh to 12,000.”

Real change comes from a strategic and action-based shift in thinking.

“Strategic planning is a mechanism for engagement, communication, and buy-in across the institution and we have to use those tools effectively from an equity lens to think about where you are and where you want to be as an institution,” said John H. Dozier, Ed.D, institute community and equity officer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In fact, MIT is in the midst of its very first strategic planning initiative ever, with DEI as a critical part of the mission.

“The creation of a strategic plan must assume that every tenet within it is a major change to the institution,” says Dozier. “Change management is a deeply important part of it, and Kotter’s 8 steps of change management—creating a sense of urgency, enabling action by removing barriers, generating short-term wins, etc.—are helpful ways to ensure that the institution puts words into action.”

The full recording of the roundtable discussion is available here. To start a conversation about how to utilize mentorship to engage and support your students, contact Mentor Collective today.