Diversity is key on and off campus
By Mary Stamp
As chief diversity officer (CDO) in charge of Gonzaga University's Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Robin Kelley believes that an atmosphere of diversity, equity and inclusion is important for faculty, staff and students to experience not only on campus but also in the community.
So community members are invited to campus programs, such as events of the Center for Hate Studies, and Robin meets with people in the community, NAACP Spokane and area tribes.
"I want both the campus and community to be welcoming," said Robin.
"Gonzaga is less diverse, so that requires more relationship building to be influential and collaboration to create buy-in," she commented.
Robin's job is to promote diversity as part of what the university community is and part of its commitment to social justice and service.
Gonzaga was already committed to improving its diversity, equity and inclusion environment before Robin came in July 2020 as associate chief diversity officer. She has worked with Raymond Reyes, who was associate vice president and chief diversity officer for 22 of his 33 years at Gonzaga.
Robin became CDO in April 2021. Raymond is now associate vice president for cultural initiatives, so they continue to collaborate.
Her responsibilities span the departments as she helps the university include diversity, equity and inclusion in its strategic plan.
She developed and now works with Gonzaga's Council on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, which advises the president, provosts, academic deans, student affairs and the Gonzaga Council.
To increase and retain diversity among students, faculty and staff, Robin said, it's important to recognize that racism occurs both on campus and in the community—such as the desecration of a Black Lives Matter exhibit, racist stickers on campus, Zoom bombing of a Black Student Union meeting and nationwide incidents toward Asians, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders.
In announcing her appointment, GU President Thane McCulloh said that "racism is real and incidents do occur, creating an environment that instills fear, frustration and fatigue among BIPOC students and community members." Aware of structural biases as a predominantly white institution and "the systemic racism that exists within our community and nation," he said, "it is imperative to create a truly diverse, inclusive and anti-racist campus culture and community."
Robin, who grew up in Buffalo, NY, comes to Gonzaga with more than 22 years in higher education administration roles in diversity. She was associate vice provost of equity and equal opportunity at North Carolina State University, director of the Office of Equal Opportunity at Iowa State University and assistant director of equity, diversity and inclusion after being assistant director of employee relations at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo.
She also founded and has done independent consulting for Kelley Consulting Firm with nonprofits in New York, North Carolina and Washington, D.C.
Robin's degrees include a bachelor's in economics and finance, a master's from SUNY-Buffalo and a doctorate from Iowa State University, both in higher education administration.
Her initial task at Gonzaga has been to help develop the Inclusive Excellence Strategic Plan for 2022 to 2027.
To gather data for it, she has met with students, leaders, faculty and staff in town hall gatherings, and will continue to gather feedback on a webpage survey through early summer.
She said Gonzaga's Catholic, Jesuit, humanistic traditions are at the root of its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion and in tune with her Baptist roots.
Gonzaga's efforts include starting Women and Gender Studies in 1991, a Native American Studies minor in 2010, critical race and studies classes in 2019 and then the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
The strategic plan will develop goals and strategies for equitable access and inclusive learning in a diverse community. It addresses recruitment, retention and success of faculty and students; the campus climate and relationships; teaching and service; training and development, and assessment and accountability.
"During my first year, I have offered an "Academy for Inclusion, Excellence and Leadership" to build awareness, knowledge and skills to confront overt racial and cultural bias and micro-aggression," Robin said.
For it, 36 faculty, staff and graduate students met in three groups in person and online.
In addition, 80 percent of all new students and 84 percent of faculty and staff participated in and completed sessions on diversity, she said.
Another effort is an underrepresented minority post-doctoral fellowship program for recent doctoral graduates who need additional development as teachers to prepare them for tenure track to assure retention, she added.
Robin also has overseen racial equity climate surveys of undergraduates and staff.
"We hope to find what students, staff and faculty think of the campus climate, what we do well, where there are gaps and what we need to do to create an inclusive climate," she said, adding that they are also asked about the climate in the surrounding community, "so inclusion does not end when they step off campus.
"That's also important if we want to understand why people stay and why people leave," she said. "I meet with faculty members who are leaving to gain anecdotal information."
The racial and cultural "diversity" figure is 29 percent of students and 11.5 percent of faculty. It includes international and domestic nonwhite students.
Gonzaga offers several cultural clubs: the Asian American Pacific Islander Club, a LGBTQ Club, International Student Affairs, the Tribal Relations Group and a Black Student Union for students.
Gonzaga groups for employees include the IMPACT Affinity Group for Allies on Campus; the International and Transnational Faculty and Staff Affinity Group formed in 2021; Colleagues of Color formed two years ago, and a group called –Productive Discomfort, Robin said.
"Inclusion in classrooms is about both the environment and the pedagogy," she pointed out.
Robin said her work is about improving and transforming lives by dismantling structures, systems, policies and practices, and creating new structures, infrastructures, policies and programs so things will change.
"I do not want students to recount that they persisted with their studies, in spite of something in the climate or how they were treated," she said, quoting Maya Angelou: "You may not remember what was said or done, but you remember how it made you feel."
"I do not want alumni or faculty to say they stayed despite how they were treated. I want people to feel they belong. I want people to feel they are heard. I want people to know their feelings are respected," Robin said.
She hopes the climate, planning, programs, curricula and opportunities will encourage people to be mindful and feel they belong. She wants people to learn, live and work in a community where human differences are appreciated and thrive, so Gonzaga prepares students for living and working in an increasingly diverse world.
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