Over the 2020-21 academic year, Georgia State has made meaningful and progressive strives to demonstrate our commitment toward diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). From engaging in critical community conversations to implementing transformative institutional action plans and initiatives, we reflect on our many DEI initiatives that seek to celebrate our rich diversity and ensure fair and equitable environments for faculty, staff, and students. Our current progress and future goals underscore our vision of becoming a national leader and a leading model for inclusive excellence.
Even before AY 2020-21, the Office of the Provost began the first steps toward diversity, equity and inclusion through the Next Generation of Faculty initiative’s Implementation Steering Committee, and planning for the launch of a central information hub for DEI at the university. During the spring 2020 semester, the university also announced its membership in the National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity.
In February 2020, the Provost’s Office sponsored the first Groundbreaker Lecture, held in honor of Myra Payne Elliott, Barbara Pace Hunt, and Iris Mae Welch, to recognize the bravery of these women in their attempt to desegregate Georgia State. But only weeks following that deeply meaningful, historic occasion, multiple crises ensued. The global COVID-19 pandemic posed challenges unlike any other faced by Georgia State and our society in recent memory. The inequities in our society in socioeconomic status, class, and other factors were laid bare by disparate impacts in many ways. And with the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, and countless other Black Americans, the university community clearly needed to address the national reckoning over racial injustice and inequality.
President Mark Becker and Provost Wendy Hensel established the Task Force for Racial Equality in June 2020, to address and foster conversation about issues of systemic racism and identify solutions the university can place into action for its students, faculty, staff and our greater society. The Task Force provided several recommendations and transformative policy changes that have been implemented throughout the year. You can read more about the report and action plan at https://dei.gsu.edu/task-force and https://dei.gsu.edu/action-plan/.
Further, on July 27, 2020, President Becker announced the establishment of the Ground Crew Groundbreaker scholarship in their honor to provide financial support to students who embody the commitment to social justice exemplified by Ms. Elliott, Ms. Hunt, and Ms. Welch.
Meanwhile, the need for a central information hub for DEI resources – from suggested reading and audiovisual material, to helpful listings of on-campus services like counseling services and university policies – became even clearer. The DEI website’s development was accelerated and launched at the beginning of the 2020-21 academic year.
This hub brings together DEI information from across the university into one single place, with a signature, innovative Diversity Database established by Dr. Curtis Byrd and Dr. Rihana Mason, bringing together information about more than 140 DEI programs and initiatives at Georgia State. Since then, more digital resources have been added, and the companion Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at Georgia State e-newsletter was launched in November to share the latest in events, news, opportunities, and Diversity Database information with students, faculty and staff.
As we started a fall semester unlike any before, and in the wake of the turbulent summer of reckoning and 2020’s ongoing political conflict, the Diversity Dialogues series was also created as part of the action plan to address the recommendations from the Task Force for Racial Equality. This series brought together the university community to discuss ways to address racism and inequality.
Topics included campus climate, the COACHE survey results, policing, GSU's role in the future of Atlanta, and GSU's current and future DEI initiatives. The series wrapped up on April 7, 2021, and you can view the recordings here. The dialogues also included the second Groundbreaker Lecture in February 2021, where we were joined by Dr. Peniel Joseph to engage in a robust discussion about his book, "The Sword and the Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr."
Other recommendations from the task force which have been or are being implemented during AY 2020-21 include DEI trainings for senior administration, associate deans and department chairs, the creation of faculty affinity groups expanding diverse faculty recruitment through the SREB Doctoral Scholars & McKnight Fellows Program, and SAGE Webinars for Diversity Faculty.
Furthermore, Georgia State’s Commission for the Next Generation of Faculty was tasked to identify challenges and opportunities for addressing faculty diversity, equity and inclusion. Following the issuance of the Commission’s report, an implementation steering committee was formed to put the Commission’s transformative recommendations into action.
As part of the transformative recommendations from the Next Generation of Faculty initiative and its Implementation Steering Committee, we undertook the COACHE (Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education) survey process to assess the campus climate for full-time faculty. On October 6, 2020, Provost Hensel shared the COACHE survey analysis results for underrepresented minority faculty and published an action plan in April 2021 for the Georgia State community, with steps to demonstrate institutional transparency and accountability. A companion COACHE at Georgia State website was launched to provide access to the COACHE action plan, a form for suggestions, and updates.
As demonstrated from our unwavering dedication toward making Georgia State a national leader and a leading model for inclusive excellence, we take pride in our progress and aspire to achieve more. However, our efforts do not stop here. Work in the field of diversity, equity and inclusion is continuous, and we invite you to join in our charge toward becoming a university for all and an example for other institutions.
As we wrap up the spring 2021 semester, thank you for an impactful and educational year, and we look forward to reporting on our continued progress soon.
-Shelby Birch, Digital Communications Graduate Assistant, Office of the Provost