Pursuing plans for access to education and equity with action has become a hallmark of Grand Valley State University, which has a statewide presence in Michigan.
Following the death of George Floyd in 2020, Dr. Philomena V. Mantella, President of Grand Valley State, presented a 15-point racial equality plan as a clear statement of how to provide fundamental knowledge about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) and emphasizes the university’s commitment to values.
dr Chasity Bailey-Fakhoury “We have introduced DEI training for all employees,” says Dr. Jesse M. Bernal, Chief of Staff to the President and Vice President, Inclusion and Justice. “It is an online module that we released earlier this year for all of our faculty and staff as required training. It has also been incorporated into all of our new hire/faculty orientations.
“The last track we’re releasing now is about structural changes,” he continues. “All of our departments and our colleges are now appointing DEI leaders and liaisons who work with their vice president or deans on some of our commitment to inclusion and equity and also gather to advance university strategy. ”
One of the commitments began with expanding undergraduate education to ensure all students take courses or curriculum related to racism and racial justice, which was approved by the General Board of Education and the Provost last fall.
The Higher Education Data Sharing Consortium, which is leading the analysis, conducted the campus climate survey in November 2021. Starting this fall, it was recommended that focus groups be set up with diverse groups of staff, faculty and students to capture their stories.
“We will do this throughout the year and also break down the data at the department college level to allow for more local response and action,” says Bernal.
One initiative that started during the pandemic is pulse surveys. “Coming out with important questions at crucial moments,” says Mantella. “When the senior team identifies problems, and also when we see them in our student council or in the presidential council, the council purposely does what is called a slot analysis. What do we see? What is emerging that we are not aware of? To test some of this, we can use a pulse poll to really dig a little deeper.”
Grand Valley State runs most of Michigan’s TRIO (state-funded educational work) programs. Mantella also wants to improve pathways for students attending community colleges. “We have good transfer agreements,” says Mantella. “We’re also transferring retransfer, which means … we’re going to resend their credits to be counted in the event a credential is awarded while they continue in Grand Valley.”
There are also efforts to reach approximately two million people in Michigan who have some college credits but have yet to graduate. According to Mantella, Grand Valley State is working to create modalities by which these individuals can achieve their goals.
“We’re trying to be more community-rooted and to serve the southeast Michigan community, but also to expand the pipeline not just to Grand Valley, but to all four-year institutions,” says Bernal. “We have some new hybrid programs running at our Detroit center. We host many community-based events and workshops from our Detroit hub.”
Partnerships with external organizations and local governments have been strengthened over the past two years. dr Chasity Bailey-Fakhoury, Associate Professor and Director of Engagement for Educational and Community Innovation, leads an incubator that works with traditional and non-traditional partners inside and outside the state of Grand Valley to drive outcomes in higher education and the K–12 staff .
“We’re trying to help scale ideas that we think will have great impact,” says Bailey-Fakhoury. “In my role as Director, I go out into the community, learn about the aspirations of the community, and discover how the Co-Lab and the University can align our mission to serve the aspirations of the community. To see how the university can use our resources to further advance the work of diverse community partners, organizations, schools and school districts to all seek to create a better community life for all.”
In 2020, Mantella established a network of Racial Justice Advisors focused on the experiences of Black staff, faculty, students and alumni. “I’m a proponent of broad participation, particularly in the areas of diversity, equity and inclusion,” says Mantella. “They continue to refine and prioritize work.”
Bernal meets with equity advisors about weekly, and Mantella and the university leadership team meet with them as a group each semester. A faculty member participates in the President’s Council and meets with Mantella monthly.
Another member of the team is Dr. Alisha Davis, program director for Allied Health Sciences in her second year as Presidential Fellow for Inclusion and Equity and co-lead of the Advisory Network. “We are exploring how to create this inclusive and equitable environment using a social justice platform to positively impact diverse populations on campus,” says Davis.
Davis notes that there are seven initiatives in the pipeline for which implementation plans are being prepared. This includes professional development, creating leadership opportunities, and ensuring the climate on campus fosters a sense of belonging and acceptance for all.
Many of the students in the Davis program currently work in hospitals or other healthcare settings. “We have hybrid classes and face-to-face classes that are designed to accommodate students in a way that suits their needs,” she says. “Next year we will also launch a limited number of online courses.”
Even before the pandemic, the courses addressed health inequalities such as B. social determinants of health, but the experiences of the students in the first few months brought a slightly different focus.
“The students had more of that tangible piece…because they were experiencing it,” says Davis. “I have worked on implicit bias, microaggression and racism in healthcare. [The pandemic] prompted me to focus on these concepts a little differently and definitely bring in statistics on barriers to care and the gap in patient outcomes.
“We try to create spaces within our program … to have conversations about race, diversity and inclusion and make sure we provide the best and fairest conversations in the classroom [that] we can,” she adds.
In June 2022, Grand Valley State hosted the first Black Boys and Men Symposium, a national gathering of administrators, policymakers, K-12 educators, and community leaders who work with students of color, particularly those who identify as black and male. They explored issues surrounding success and access, and how institutions can better serve communities. About 300 people from across the country attended the two-day event.
The university has launched Reach Higher 2025, a new strategic plan approved by the Board of Trustees that includes three components: educational experience, lifelong learning, and educational equity. The Grand Valley Pledge is also a new commitment that anyone in Michigan who is a Michigan high school graduate and whose family earns less than $50,000 a year can come to Grand Valley State fee-free. After filing the FAFSA, the university will provide government student assistance with support from the university.
Currently, Grand Valley State has partnership agreements with five historically black colleges and universities. If students at these institutions want to pursue a graduate program that is not available at their college or university, they can do so at Grand Valley State with two-plus-two or three-plus-one programs, where they earn a bachelor’s degree -Get a degree from their home institution and then a master’s degree or a second bachelor’s degree from the university.
These partnership opportunities are likely to increase as Grand Valley State develops new programs to reflect the digital economy, artificial intelligence and robotics.
“We continue to focus on content and areas that really matter — applied medical devices, different versions of informatics and informatics,” says Mantella. “The three components of [Reach Higher 2025] will continue to be our guide and we will do them very well, with much innovation and much connection to those we serve and to those we should serve to a greater extent.”
According to Bailey-Fakhoury, the university leadership is genuinely committed to the work of the DEI but honestly notes that there is still work to be done. At the College of Educational and Community Engagement, she hopes to do more work around recruiting and retaining BIPOC students to become teachers. She says professors cannot hold back when preparing student teachers to become teachers who are aware of racism, sexism, classism and xenophobia and develop anti-racist pedagogy.
“It’s important to have a president who sets the tone for the work,” says Bailey-Fakhoury. “As a result, faculty, staff and students feel that we will help the university achieve its goals of diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility. That’s the framework we really use.”