Developing a Comprehensive Diversity Plan

Lakesia D. Johnson, assistant vice president and chief diversity officer
Maure Smith-Benanti, associate dean of students and director of intercultural affairs

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 (as of 2017).

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.  


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