Strategy Session

Engaging for Good

This fall, Grinnell will announce its first comprehensive fundraising campaign in 20 years. The goal? To raise $175 million to help current and future Grinnellians live lives of purpose and to continue our proud tradition of effecting change and transforming the communities we inhabit throughout the world. You will soon be hearing more about this landmark campaign and the opportunities for you to be involved.

The launch of this campaign provides the perfect opportunity for re-examining our alumni relations opportunities. We want to make sure we are aligning our staff and resources in ways that allow us to support and champion our alumni and donor community through this campaign and in the years to follow. While the dollar goal of the campaign is an obvious focus, an equally important goal of the campaigns is to increase the number of alumni who are meaningfully connected to the College — because we will always be better if more alumni are connected to and invested in Grinnell. This means creating new pathways for alumni to renew their commitment to lifelong learning and for giving their time as mentors and volunteers. It means directing alumni passion and energy in new ways to impact and help current students. Unfortunately, it likely means saying goodbye to some things we have done for many years.

We truly wish we could do everything, but we just don’t have the resources (people and/or budget). So we are evaluating our alumni programs to consider which strategically serve our community the best. To that end, later this fall we will be inviting all alumni to share feedback regarding your preferences about alumni communications and alumni relations opportunities and services. Keep an eye out for this survey before the holidays.

In conjunction with our campaign launch, however, we are excited to share several new or expanded initiatives that are underway:

  • Improved communication with all alumni, especially those who serve in a leadership volunteer role within our community. We want to provide new and compelling ways for alumni to learn about what’s happening at Grinnell by facilitating communication on issues of interest and concern within the alumni body. One way we are doing this is through our new monthly e-newsletter, The Grinnellian, which we launched in July.
  • Development of identity-based engagement communities and intersectional networks for alumni to connect with those who shared similar experiences as students at Grinnell and to foster strong connections between diverse alumni and students.
  • Enhanced support for our regional networks program volunteers to ensure they have the resources necessary to organize diverse events in their home communities that attract a broad array of attendees and foster meaningful connections among them.
  • Cultivation of a volunteer leadership program and affinity network for alumni athletes to build upon the success of strong traditions like our fall athletic reunion weekends.
  • A new virtual book club for Grinnellians to study, explore, and unpack texts together across generations.

We eagerly anticipate the creativity, generosity of spirit, and bold ideas that you, our alumni, will share with us as we embark on this next chapter of alumni engagement. And I hope you will attend one of our upcoming regional campaign events — we are cooking up something extra special for you! Please see Page 17 for a schedule of events. As a proud alumna, I’m convinced that, after you attend one of our events, you will be reminded of all the ways that Grinnellians come together to engage and to serve the greater good.

On the Virtues of Stretching Oneself

This spring, I had the extraordinary privilege to speak to 70 Grinnell students and recent alumni who applied for competitive external fellowships this year. These remarkable people had summoned the courage to apply for awards like the Fulbright, Watson, Truman, Marshall, or Rhodes scholarships.

As I considered what I might offer by way of congratulations and advice, I recalled my own experiences as a history major at Pomona College, where my advisers had encouraged me to apply for such awards as well. I decided to apply for a Fulbright teaching fellowship to Ecuador. I had studied Spanish for eight years, both in high school and at college, and had achieved a high degree of fluency. I had studied abroad in Spain and was excited about the chance to work in Latin America. I was deeply interested in the history of U.S.-Latin American relations and was writing a senior thesis on the Alliance for Progress, the Kennedy administration’s signature foreign aid program. I extensively researched the country’s history, economy, and social structure. My interview with the college’s committee went well. They recommended me strongly, and I was thrilled to receive a letter from the Fulbright program informing me I was a finalist. Alas, about a month later I received another letter advising me that I had not, in fact, won the award.

I also applied for a Rhodes and a Marshall. Faculty friends and supporters told me that my interests in poverty and development would be attractive to selection committees. They noted that I had volunteered at a local elementary school, helping teach English as a second language to the children of recent immigrants. They suggested that my experience as a varsity athlete in cross country and track might be beneficial as well. After a grueling mock interview on campus, I was miraculously selected in a first-round Rhodes interview in my home state of Hawaii. The finalist interview, at the University of Southern California, did not go as well. I struggled to respond to hypothetical questions about information, security, and democracy. When the winners were announced that evening, I was not among the 32 award recipients. Instead of flying off to Oxford, I went back to my residence hall, promptly contracted the stomach flu, and was sick for a week. My pursuit of a Marshall scholarship for graduate study in the United Kingdom ended in a similar way. I applied, was a finalist, interviewed, and didn’t make the last cut.

The disappointment of coming so close and not winning can be hard to take. But looking back, I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world. Learning to write about oneself and to interview are vital skills for the rest of one’s professional life, and I clearly benefited from the opportunity. More importantly, the application process — and its demand that one explore fundamental questions of purpose, meaning, and values — is an invitation to essential self-discovery. 

The really important question is not “What am I good at?” Grinnell College students, of course, are good at a lot of things! The vital, essential questions are instead “What do I care about? What matters to me? What might I be willing to commit myself to?” Those questions are of an entirely different order, and applying for such fellowships is an invitation to explore them in a thoughtful, reflective, and serious way.  Winning awards is great, and Grinnell students win many every year, but the real learning comes in the process of personal discernment.

A great liberal arts education truly liberates you; it enables you to discover talents, interests, and abilities you didn’t know you possessed and to bring them to bear in a world that truly needs your help. Supported by a wonderful and devoted faculty and staff, Grinnell’s students learn, grow, and stretch themselves toward that goal each day.

As I depart Grinnell this summer to become president of Punahou School in Honolulu, I carry with me a deep sense of admiration for Grinnell’s community. After five years, my confidence in the College’s vital mission is stronger than ever.

Welcome to the Grinnell Community

As I considered the possibility of accepting a position to lead Grinnell’s development and alumni relations team, I asked myself a number of questions. Was I really willing to move from Indianapolis to Iowa, where I did not have any family or friends? Would I find an engaging and supportive professional community that would help me grow? Who would help take care of my dog, Summit, while I traveled? Would Summit and I find a welcoming community on a personal level? The more I wondered about these questions, the more aware I became of just how important having a strong and supportive community is to me, and the more I realized I might have been taking my own personal and professional communities for granted. Vowing to change that, I am trying to be more mindful every day of the importance of community. 

Communities form around people who have some common interest, goal, or experience. The experience of going to college in Grinnell, Iowa, is one thing that connects all of our alumni. Some components of that experience — faculty, academic programs, student organizations, and administrations — change over time for various reasons. But one thing that seems to remain constant, regardless of graduation year, is the fact that Grinnell alumni are passionate, invested, and actively engaged in making the world a better place, even if they do not always agree on how to go about it.

This is perfectly normal. Community members are not required to agree with each other. In fact, I strongly believe that divergent and diverse opinions bring necessary perspective to dialogue when communicated in an appropriate way. For at least the past decade, I have been telling the teams I lead that liking and/or agreeing with each other is not required to accomplish our objectives. However, what is required is for team members always to communicate in a professional, respectful, and kind manner. In my experience, communicating in these ways is how communities get stronger, problems are solved, and the world becomes a better place.

Grinnell College has had to address some contentious issues in the short time I have been a part of the community. In my role, I hear from a great number of alumni who want to share their opinions on such issues. Often, the alum will begin by saying, “I love Grinnell College and want to continue supporting it, but I’m struggling with this …” and then they go on to very carefully and rationally lay out their data points on whatever issue they want to discuss. In these instances, the analytical and critical thinking skills that are so fundamental to a liberal arts education and are such a hallmark of a Grinnell College degree are on full and beautiful display. I have come to think of this as “channeling their inner Grinnellian,” and I respect, admire, and appreciate such thoughtfulness and true devotion to the Grinnell College community.  

I look forward to meeting as many Grinnellians as possible in the months and years to come and to hearing your ideas on how we can continue to strengthen the Grinnell College community and thereby move closer to accomplishing our common goal of making the world a better place. 

With thanks for all you do for Grinnell College and for welcoming me into your community,

P.S. Nearly eight months into my Grinnell adventure, my initial questions have been affirmatively answered. Summit and I have found the Grinnell community to be incredibly thoughtful, welcoming, and supportive on a professional and personal level. Our next-door-neighbor brought us homemade brownies while we moved in, we have a Grinnell College student who sometimes stays with Summit when I travel, my colleagues are incredibly smart, talented, and inspiring, and the alumni I have had a chance to meet have made me feel instantly welcomed. This is, indeed, a special community.

Investing in Diversity and Inclusion

In August 2018, 463 first-year students representing 46 states and 20 countries matriculated at Grinnell. They are one of our most diverse classes ever: 19 percent are international students; 15 percent are first-generation college students; and 28 percent are domestic students of color, a record-setting number at Grinnell. 

How do we give these talented new students the best chance to thrive, grow, and excel? That is the kind of important question that has been central to the work of the College’s Council on Diversity and Inclusion (CDI), a working group made of faculty, staff, and students. 

Last year, under the capable leadership of Lakesia Johnson, chief diversity officer, and Maure Smith-Benanti, director of intercultural affairs, the CDI drafted the Grinnell College Diversity and Inclusion Plan, a powerful and evolving document that not only highlights our ongoing work in the area of diversity and inclusion, but also serves as a blueprint for the challenging, sometimes imperfect, but increasingly essential work we need to do in the years ahead.

Our plan defines diversity as “that which makes us different from each other, including who we are, where we’re from, what we believe, who we love, our current circumstances, abilities, and lived experiences.” This plan challenges us to do the hard work those values demand. It also illuminates not only the success we have had so far but also the challenges that will require our resources, energy, and innovation in the years ahead. Simply put, a college that values diversity and inclusion must invest in diversity and inclusion.

Under the newly drafted plan, we will continue to strengthen our experience for all first-year students, developing new programs such as our first-year common read program and special First-Year Tutorial sections focused on diversity. These are specifically aimed at helping students respectfully discuss issues of difference and incorporate the values of diversity and inclusion into their academic and extracurricular lives from day one.

The new plan also underscores the indispensable role faculty members play in building a diverse and inclusive campus community. Already, the CDI has helped develop better approaches to recruiting new faculty. This includes offering implicit bias training to student representatives participating in faculty searches and the establishment of the Grinnell Equity Advocates, specially-trained peers who assist their colleagues in conducting fair and bias-free search processes. 

Meanwhile, current Grinnell faculty members continue their own educations each year, participating in a variety of summer workshops that help them build more inclusive classrooms and design fully-accessible learning materials. Through our continuing partnership with the Mellon Mays Foundation, Grinnell College faculty work to diversify the academy, by participating in a mentorship program that provides resources and support to talented undergraduates from underrepresented communities who are considering graduate study in selected fields. 

Some of the investments that our alumni and donors have already made in specific areas of Grinnell College have, in fact, been investments in these values of diversity and inclusion. For example, support for the Center for Careers, Life, and Service (CLS) has helped ensure that all students can access funding to attend academic conferences, tap networking opportunities, and travel to job interviews. The CLS can also help qualified students purchase the professional attire they need to be confident and successful at these events. This kind of work helps us ensure that all students thrive, not only upon entering Grinnell College, but also upon graduating from it. 

We are working on building a community that ensures we can offer a transformative liberal arts education to all our students, no matter what their background. We believe we can only offer this kind of education when we have a community of differing perspectives, opinions, backgrounds, identities, and experiences working side by side in a peaceful yet challenging environment. 

We also believe that this kind of education produces the open-minded, flexible, driven, courageous, and bold global citizens our world will need in the decades ahead. In short, we believe that this transformational work on our campus can eventually transform the world.

Strengthening Equity and Opportunity in Athletics

When John Kispert ’85 and Jill Goldberg Kispert put the final arrangements together for a gift to support intercollegiate athletics, it helped the College gain more focus about how designated giving would strengthen programming across campus. 

The Kispert gift is slated to support the athletic department’s vision for equity. We evaluated our overall program, and as a result we saw a need to develop a full-time position for an assistant coach in women’s athletics. This plan will not only support one or two women’s teams, it will also completely equalize the number of full-time employees working with men’s and women’s sports. An equitable ledger of support for both genders is very hard to achieve, yet it is important when focusing on federal employment standards shaped by Title IX. We view the Kisperts’ gift as a unique opportunity to impact gender equity in a valuable way.

Since the enactment of Title IX in 1972, Grinnell has maintained intercollegiate competition for both men and women. Our athletics directors during that period, John Pfitsch, Dee Fairchild, and Greg Wallace, all approached the task of creating gender balance and equity as a high priority. So being associated with the athletic department since 1981, I was instilled with concepts of balance and equal support for men and women. John and Jill Kispert were products of the same period of athletics history, and they lived out the struggle to envision and support athletics in an equitable way. Moreover, they keenly observe the functions of athletics for their two teenage children, who are making their way through club and school athletics competition.

A supplementary benefit from the gift is the opportunity to create a more robust, overall assistant coaching structure. This change was recommended through external reviews in 2007 and 2018. Heading into the fall of 2018, every team sport program will be supported by a half-time assistant coach. 

This change is significant because the Pioneer athletic department maintains a practice where head coaches are faculty, and they have coaching assignments for two sports. This concept is unique for selective liberal arts institutions. Our peer NCAA Division III institutions tend to have coaches lead only one sport with no faculty duties. I see this part of the Kispert gift as paramount to combating the stresses of two-sport coaches and enabling more success in our athletics program. 

The College and our athletic department are moving into an exciting time of our history. In recent years we have seen growth in designated giving, which is enriching the campus, our curriculum, programming, and opportunities for our students. It is clear that John and Jill evaluated this giving opportunity as a way to strengthen and advance a part of the cocurricular experience we provide our student-athletes. In many ways, their gift is already inspiring engagement and ideas from other potential donors who are finding and supporting their passions at Grinnell College. 

We are in the midst of focused and unique growth at the College. I am excited to see us strengthen our educational opportunities in the future, especially in the area of athletics. 

Recommendations on Climate Impact, Sustainability, and Divestment

— Originally published in The Grinnell Magazine, Summer 2018.

At the spring 2018 meeting of the Grinnell College Board of Trustees, the Fossil Fuels and Climate Impact Task Force issued its recommendations about climate impact and divestment. The board voted to accept our recommendations, which are briefly outlined below.

We — Michael Kahn ’74 (chair), Kathryn Jagow Mohrman ’67, and Edward Senn ’79 — spent nearly a year researching, reading, listening, and discussing the issues related to fossil fuel divestment and other actions the College could take to positively impact climate. We made it a priority to conduct our work in an open-minded, intellectually rigorous, transparent, and inclusive manner. Our detailed final report and all research materials are available online (grinnell.edu/about/trustees/fossil-fuels-task-force). 

Recommendations related to climate change and sustainability

We believe that the most effective way for Grinnell College to have a positive impact on climate change is to reduce its carbon footprint. To this end, we strongly endorsed the Grinnell College Sustainability Plan, also available at the link above. Since energy consumption is the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions at the College, we particularly recommend the continuation of efforts, referenced in the Sustainability Plan, to replace the College’s fossil-fuel–based electricity supply with renewable energy alternatives. 

We also recommended creating a standing campus Sustainability Committee composed of faculty, staff, students, and alumni to coordinate efforts and bring greater focus, visibility, and momentum to the many excellent recommendations included in the Sustainability Plan. We recommended annual progress reports to the Board of Trustees and the College community on the implementation of the Sustainability Plan and other campus climate actions outlined in our report.

Recommendations related to divestment

During our deliberations about whether or not to recommend divestment of fossil fuel holdings, we considered many factors and sought to answer a series of questions, including: 

  • Does divestment from fossil fuel companies directly and effectively impact climate change?
  • Would divesting from fossil fuels adversely impact our endowment returns and thereby diminish our ability to fulfill our educational mission?

Having considered a great deal of information and diverse perspectives, we recommended that the College should not divest from fossil fuel holdings in our endowment. Although divestment actions have been effective in raising public awareness, there is little evidence that such actions have had any direct impact on climate or changed the policies and behavior of fossil fuel companies. To the contrary, there is growing evidence that engaged investors are having increasing impact in changing the policies of these companies. We further concluded that divestment would introduce significant investment risk in the endowment, jeopardizing the generous financial aid and educational excellence that are so heavily dependent on endowment funding and strong investment returns. 

We recommended that Grinnell’s Investment Committee and Investment Office take actions to enhance existing environmental, social, and governance (ESG) capabilities and increase shareholder engagement, where appropriate, reporting to the full Board of Trustees with a plan for accomplishing this goal. We believe enhancing the application of shareholder engagement and ESG diligence and monitoring enables us to have impact on issues such as climate change without having to change the way we manage our endowment.

We also recommended that the Investment Committee assess the feasibility of creating a separately managed fund within the endowment that would allow future contributions to be managed in a fossil-fuel–free portfolio at the request of the donor and that the Investment Committee consider the use of additional socially responsible investment criteria in the construction of such a fund.

We were inspired by the Grinnell College community’s passion for confronting the climate change issue. We believe our collective Grinnellian commitment to implementing the report recommendations can and will make a difference in addressing climate change. 

Persuading Students to Choose Grinnell

In October of 2017, I had the pleasure of speaking with alumni volunteers on campus during Volunteer Weekend about the work of the admission and financial aid offices. I quizzed their memories of the college search process that eventually brought them to Grinnell College. Most of the non-Iowans in the room were willing to admit to some reservations, as high school seniors, about the idea of going to college in Iowa. These alumni, of course, are among our most passionate and committed, who volunteer their time in service to the mission of Grinnell College. Clearly, they are grateful they did not allow their initial apprehensions about enrolling at Grinnell to dissuade them. Our location is the most significant impediment to student recruitment.

For all the reasons why generations of Grinnell alumni are so loyal to their alma mater, we continue to fly Grinnell’s flag high above the fields of corn that surround our campus. While the beauty of the Iowa prairie and the possibilities that call from J.B. Grinnell’s “ideal community” initially escape many prospective students, it is our desire in the Offices of Admission and Financial Aid to identify students with Grinnellian qualities and to persuade them to pursue the dreams that come alive just beyond the corn tassels. Like many of our alumni, they do not choose Grinnell because of our location; many choose Grinnell in spite of it, and we’re learning through research to reframe our location as a positive when they discover more compelling things that distinguish us from our peers. 

The morass of college admission publications makes it especially important to define and declare our distinctive competencies. In an environment where many colleges claim similar strengths, it is crucial that we reveal a Grinnell that is real (authentic to who we are), relevant (compelling to prospective students), and rare (not easily found at other places). What is it we can say of Grinnell to satisfy those standards and inspire interest among prospective students? We interviewed over 350 well-qualified prospects to determine how they would answer that question. 

It turned out that some of our initial assumptions were incorrect. For example, prospects were not as interested in self-governance as we anticipated. Many more were interested in our academic reputation, the individually advised curriculum, our focus on global perspectives, research, experiential learning, and preparation for a successful career. Perhaps the most important finding from our study was that only when programs at Grinnell are perceived as integral to every student’s experience did most prospects find them compelling. Through important investments we have made in programs that impact all of our students, regardless of family financial resources, it is possible for us to distinguish Grinnell in ways that matter to prospective students.

This is our promise. Through a range of exceptional programs, learning spaces, and the support of a world-class faculty and staff, Grinnell still offers a boldly individualized approach to learning for intellectually engaged students and we help them navigate a complex world so they can contribute to the common good. What distinguishes us is not that we offer an exemplary academic program, undergraduate research, global learning, and career development, but that we offer these things to every student. Our task is to convince qualified prospects that they can find such an experience here. Like so many who have found reasons to love Grinnell and accept the role our prairie location plays in this experience, our intention is to lift up what makes us uniquely Grinnell so that generations of new Grinnellians can join us in this “field of dreams.”

Engaging Students

Embedding philanthropy as part of the educational experience helps students connect their learning to the careers they want to pursue and the lives they want to lead. It upholds our values and prepares students to be philanthropically effective in a changing world. 

Just as our Office of Development and Alumni Relations engages alumni in the life and work of the College, we have established ambitious goals to more effectively build relationships with current students. Students are helping to fuel the development of programs that encourage peers to demonstrate College affinity while preparing them to stay engaged after graduation. 

From the time they arrive on campus, Grinnell students gain a sense of becoming “alumni in residence.” As they become part of a deeply connected intellectual and professional network, they also find that this connectivity involves sharing their time, talent, treasure, and ties in their home communities, with other members of the Grinnell community, and with the College. They learn firsthand that strengthening commitments among people who represent the future of our alumni programming is healthy for the College and fundamental to what it means to be a Grinnellian.

We fortified this commitment in 2014 by adding to our staff an assistant director of student programs — a position dedicated to both building new programs and strengthening others that visionary alumni previously helped establish. Our professionals are partnering with a group of student leaders who comprise the Student Alumni Council and whose guidance established activities such as I Heart GC Week. These students invest personally and creatively to build philanthropic awareness and skills for future engagement with their peers. 

We are especially proud that this nascent program has already been recognized by our peers in the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). Last August, leadership from the Student Alumni Council and the Senior Class Gift Committee traveled to the CASE Conference in Washington, D.C. The trip was made possible by a gift from Barry Zigas ’73 and Jodie Levin-Epstein ’72. In addition to receiving an honorable mention award for National Philanthropy Week, the students benchmarked their philanthropy education program against their peers and had the opportunity to network with advancement professionals from across the country.

Our vision of achieving Grinnell’s enduring mission in unpredictable times is enhanced by our ability to connect with alumni at all levels. Whether we are helping to facilitate the effectiveness of future class fund directors or planting the seeds of networking opportunities throughout the global Grinnell network, we anticipate that this new student-focused approach will help guide the student-to-alumni transition.

As giving by Grinnell’s young alumni trends upward, we hope to see more young alumni stepping up in volunteer roles and larger numbers of alumni attending reunions. On campus, we are elevating the importance of giving back and paying forward as an essential component of what it means to be part of the Grinnell family. That is a trend that will benefit all Grinnellians, present and future. 

Q&A with the Fossil Fuels and Climate Impact Task Force

In the spring of 2017, Patricia Jipp Finkelman ’80, chair of the Grinnell College Board of Trustees, appointed a Fossil Fuels and Climate Impact Task Force to explore related issues including possible fossil fuel divestment in an unbiased, intellectually rigorous, transparent, and inclusive manner. The task force consists of three trustees: Michael Kahn ’74 (task force chair), Kathryn Jagow Mohrman ’67, and Edward Senn ’79

Below is a Q&A with Kahn about the task force’s role on these issues.

Q. Why was this task force formed? (What impact did student protests and arguments have on its formation?) 

A. Student activism and engagement certainly helped shine a brighter light on the topic of divestment, and board chair Finkelman and President [Raynard S.] Kington both agreed a dedicated task force was warranted to address this complex issue.

Q. To support the task force’s work, President Kington appointed an advisory committee of faculty, staff, students, and alumni, chaired by Wayne Moyer, professor of political science. They identified resources for the task force to consider, including experts who participated in campus dialogues during the fall. What was your impression of those resources? 

A. The expert speakers and other resources identified by both the task force and advisory committee have been really excellent. We all learned a great deal from this process. 

Q. During the fall semester, three series of “dialogues” were held on campus and speakers from on and off campus were invited to share their expertise about topics including divestment, investor activism, Grinnell’s sustainability plan, and trends in renewable energy. What did you learn that was most surprising or useful as you think about these issues? 

A. We’ve learned a great deal over the 15 on-campus sessions. It was helpful to learn just how much Grinnell is already doing with regard to sustainability plans and surprising to learn that several recognized leaders in responsible investing favor investor engagement over divestment. 

Q. What was your impression of the participation by the campus community in the dialogues? 

A. The members of the advisory committee were actively engaged in each campus session, but broader turnout was otherwise pretty limited. Since the issues are more complex than many might realize, we hope those who are interested will go to the task force website, grinnell.edu/about/trustees/fossil-fuels-task-force, to view some of the sessions. Everything the task force members are seeing and considering is available for all to see.

Q. At the spring 2018 board meeting, the task force will present its recommendations. How will the task force decide what to recommend? 

A. We will spend the next several months combing through all of the information we have received plus any other research or information the advisory committee provides for our review. We have been meeting weekly for many months already, and I believe we have a strong foundation for working through decisions on divestment and other actions the College could take to positively address climate change. We are all confident that this process will produce a number of impactful recommendations. 

Q. Final thoughts? 

A. We believe our process has been as important as the serious questions we are seeking to address. This has been a completely open, inclusive, and transparent process. The voices and views of students, faculty, alumni, and staff have all played a major role, not just the voices of outside experts. Though our work isn’t done, I think all of us who have worked on this are proud of how we have gone about it. 

Developing a Comprehensive Diversity Plan

In 2009 the College decided that a campus climate survey to assess diversity and inclusion was necessary. The survey results and subsequent recommendations made by the Campus Climate Task Force helped the College take significant steps forward. Some of these steps included hiring an ombudsperson, creating the Staff Council, comprehensively revising the staff handbook, and creating the Council on Diversity and Inclusion (CDI).  The CDI is composed of faculty, staff, and students and is responsible for reviewing, revising, and implementing the Grinnell College Diversity Plan. See the list of members.

In 2015, Lakesia Johnson was appointed chief diversity officer and co-convener of the CDI along with Leslie Turner Bleichner ’07, then assistant dean of students and director of intercultural affairs. Under their leadership, the CDI initiated a new campus climate assessment process, including an updated survey.   

Diversity plan development

The CDI researched and discussed multiple survey options and ultimately decided to return to the 2009 original survey questions, which were developed specifically for Grinnell College. The new survey questions were finalized in fall 2016 and submitted to the College’s Institutional Review Board for approval. In December 2016, Maure Smith-Benanti joined the CDI as co-convener in her new role as associate dean of students and director of intercultural affairs. At the same time, the survey was approved for release and went out to students, faculty, and staff during the winter of 2016–17. 

Developing a comprehensive diversity plan is an iterative process that requires considerable time, attention, and care, especially when gathering and evaluating confidential feedback. Because of this, it has not been a quick process. In addition to the climate survey feedback, other efforts have been underway which will also inform the content of the diversity plan. In the fall of 2016, the CDI divided into working groups to examine curricular initiatives; co-curricular and residential initiatives; employment policies and practices; and admissions, financial aid, and alumni relations. Each group reviewed Grinnell’s historical diversity initiatives related to its topic, met with relevant campus members, and presented a preliminary report to the entire CDI.  

For example, the working group on employment policies and practices presented employment data and the challenges that the College faces as it seeks to recruit and retain a diverse group of employees. While the College has made some significant progress in terms of faculty hiring, diversity hiring procedures for staff still need to be developed. Topics that emerged for further consideration from this working group include demographic trends in student on-campus employment and the development of concrete diversity hiring goals, among others.

Next steps in diversity plan development

Throughout the summer of 2017 we (Lakesia and Maure) have been working with Institutional Research to code and analyze the data, which we will present to the campus community this fall. We will ensure that there are multiple opportunities for feedback on this data. After reviewing the feedback, the CDI will write a draft diversity plan. We will make the draft public and solicit feedback on its content. We hope to do this during the spring 2018 semester. We anticipate that it will be a living, breathing, flexible document with staying power that will hold the College accountable, regardless of who occupies the position of chief diversity officer or director of intercultural affairs.

Recruiting, welcoming, including, and supporting lifelong Grinnellians is critical to the College’s mission. This work requires a sustained institutional commitment to campus policies and practices that promote the goals of inclusion, equity, and social justice. This sustained and institutionalized commitment to action is vital; and as co-conveners of the CDI, we are confident that with the right amount of attention, accountability, and care, this work will have a lasting and positive impact.